I was growling as I walked up the road yesterday, narrowly avoiding a young woman with each thigh the size of my ribcage who was riding a bike on the pavement. I no longer expect miracles of bike riders, however much they try to make themselves sound like a higher form of life. Sometimes those with brains use them and the rest are horrible. Moreover, I am sick to aesthetic death of sub sports wear and I hate leggings. Leggings overkill. Yes, I know they are cheap, fashionable, cheap, revealing, cheap, practical – I can see that their cost effectiveness is what makes them exemplary to some – but they have become a uniform.
I was never big on uniform. If you are in concerted effort with a number of like minded people (air/sea rescue, various military, the Conservative Party) I can see you all want to wear the same because you want to recognise each other. But wait – just think about books and covers. I prefer a modest individualism.
In order for a society to function (this is beginning to sound contentious) we have to agree norms, like wearing clothes at all and not spitting in the street. We have to agree on ways to be and conduct ourselves which will be generally acceptable. Then we have to admit that, if you are dressed a certain way, the rest of us expect certain manners and certain behaviours.
But that doesn’t always work out.
At my secondary school, we had a taste of all sorts of things I should think are long gone – community singing, country dancing, deportment and public speaking. The latter came to mind when I heard the clichés – if sincere, seriously shopworn – the Education Secretary was using. “Good God” I thought “if you’d stood up in front of my class 60 years ago, those would have been weeded out.” Not “silly boy”, just “you can do better than that.”
We were taught a degree of fluency, suggestive of competence and authority. One of the exercises was to describe making a cup of tea, from filling the kettle to milk and sugar – without hesitating. No “er -um, y’know what I mean.” I accept that anybody may falter but when you trip over yourself over and over again in a public presentation, the message is evasion and confusion.
Of course, the risk is that dictators usually sound as if they know exactly what they are doing, even before they get to the haranguing stage. That’s why dictators are both loved and hated. Cheap, popular and uniform – Adolf or the Orange Enchilada (USA) in leggings. Isn’t the mind wonderful ? Does it balk at the slogans ? I hope so.
Yesterday among the reruns and repeats, I found two old films I had never caught up with – one about a journey which always appeals to me and the other the story of a melodramatic love affair – and you can see me putting my head on one side – “oh, really ?” In the event the journey was so slow as to be unwatchable and the tortured love affair – a highly digestible mixture of twinkling stars and Hollywood back story with great camera, editing and clothes – won. Then I realised thinking about it that, were it necessary, I could plead wonders for the journey and dismiss the love affair as dated twaddle. I wouldn’t mean it but I could do it. Very little is absolute. And yet …
I am reading a book called Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. Invest, it’s worth it. Unsettling us in their numbers and their noise -make up your own list, you know what you like and don’t like about kids. Through fashions in psychology, mass marketing and manipulation, they have become almost a nation apart. Read something like this in which the mass is less the focus than the individuals and you see them as people. They may not be what you want or approve of, but you can at least see (through Kate Clanchy’s talented writing) the other side. At least one other side. And it lifts the heart.