I sit down this evening with not a single idea in my head of what I want to say, nor how to say it. I’d love to be able to claim that this is an unusual scenario, but I cannot. It is my normal practice. It is how I travel through life. Or wander. ‘Travel’ sounds premeditated. It indicates that I have a destination in mind; a route planned. I do not. In reality, I ping around like a ball-bearing in a bagatelle. Each time I sit down to write, I have five or six what-I-can-only-loosely-describe-as ‘ideas’ kicking about between my ears, but no concept of the A to Z of them. I decide which I am going to work on (by a process known as ‘see what appears on the page first’) with no idea of where it is going to lead me, but with the fairly certain knowledge that everything else that is washing about in my cranium will end up dripping in there at some stage. The denouement, such as it is, comes as it comes, generally at the end, and I stop as soon as I reach it. That’s how it works. Or, on days like today, doesn’t.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t, on occasion, hit the page with something specific to say. I’m like everybody else: I do have opinions that I believe everybody else should share. They just tend to get drowned in the inconsequential. Nothing is quite as beguiling as the trivial. Ok, I might hit the top of the page full of my intention to expose the lunatic Putin, but I all too soon get distracted by his wallpaper, the fact that he always likes to sit on a throne and wear shirts that are patently too tight. He’s as rich as Croesus, surely he could persuade somebody to make him a collar that doesn’t look like it is slowly removing his ever-ballooning bean. And that, of course, leads me on to the state of my own fat head.
I am an anti-tie wearer, because to do so leaves me in a quandary with only two wholly unsatisfactory solutions:
a) Wear a shirt of the correct size, but with a collar that does not come within two inches of fastening, or
b) Wear a shirt that has a collar of sufficient size to encircle my obviously massively engorged neck, which means that the rest of me is draped inside something that could easily accommodate a family of four on a camping trip to the Algarve. Do I want to look deformed or disrespectful? (Generally I opt for ‘disrespectful’ because anyone that knows me, knows that I am not.) I might be ploughing a lone furrow here, but I cannot for the life of me see what purpose is served by a necktie: so few appear comfortable in them. Most carry the facial expression of interrupted strangulation. Why is it necessary to attend an interview, for instance, looking like your head does not belong to your body: like it has been surgically removed and replaced onto the wrong shoulders by a dyspraxic chimp? Does the job go to the person who looks least like he has been decapitated?
I am equally uneasy, though, with the ‘casual wear only’ instruction. You see it all the time on funeral arrangements: ‘Bright colours only please’. Some people never wear bright colours (other than on the golf course): they look uncomfortable and unhappy in them. They would be comfortable in a black suit and tie, so why dictate otherwise? My own funeral guidance, should I have any input into it, will read ‘Wear whatever you like. I don’t care. Thank you for coming.’
…And then my attention is caught by something I wrote at the head of the previous paragraph. Why, I wonder, do people who spend their whole life in ‘appropriate clothing’ – suit for work, polo shirt (neutral colour) for impromptu barbecue, and expensively-labelled T-shirt and over-ironed jeans for the weekend – let it all go in an explosion of non-matching pastel on the golf course? Is it because these links are the exclusive domain of the privileged and, therefore, appearances do not have to be kept up?* ‘I can wear peach-coloured chinos and a duck blue shirt because everybody knows that I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t afford a Saville Row suit and hand-made brogues. They can tell from my bag of sticks that I’m loaded.’ I have, myself, attempted to play golf on odd occasions and I have never been anything like as embarrassed by my own incompetence as by my complete lack of checked knitwear.
All sporting activities, of course, offer the unbridled opportunity to make a complete tit of oneself. I remember, with some discomfort, a long-ago attempt to play bowls on a seaside visit. (The white coat and flat-cap kind of bowling – not the cool Fonz game.) Having hired our balls (or ‘woods’ as we were instructed to call them) we set out onto an empty green and wizzed the jack off, diagonally and at speed across the sward. The be-tweeded reprimand was swift and decisive. We learned very quickly that we were expected to stick to our own ‘rink’ so as not to interfere with the other players (of which there were none). Well, rules are rules and, having been made aware of them, we adhered to them. The incident has stuck with me because the lady bowler was so patient in her explanation of what we were doing incorrectly, but also very obviously at a complete loss as to how we could not have known the proper ‘form’ in the first place.
It’s about doing things properly, isn’t it? It’s about thinking things through. If you’re going to play a game, you learn the rules. If you’re going to invade a peace-loving country, killing thousands and displacing millions, you have to follow the correct protocol. You have to have at least some modicum of rational justification. You have to have the courage to allow your own people to see the atrocities you are committing in their name. You have, at the very least, to find a way to avoid being guilty of genocide simply because you imagine that the rest of the world doesn’t take you seriously enough.
Even the vainest of gangsters can’t necessarily buy a shirt that fits properly.
*The answer is ‘Yes’ – obviously.
Below are five quotes by Josef Stalin (the well known and moderate Russian leader)…
“Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach”
“Do you remember the Tsar? Well I’m like a Tsar”
“The only real power comes out of a long rifle”
“When there’s a person, there’s a problem. When there’s no person, there’s no problem”
“People who cast votes decide nothing. The people who count votes decide everything”
…Nice man. Thank goodness we’ve no-one like him now…