The first polar bear cub born in captivity here was called
Brumas and we all bought pictures and cooed with excitement. Such a thing triggered all sorts of fashion and comment and jokes. My father remembered every funny story he was ever told and told them to collective family mirth. My mother remembered very few, like the one about two polar bear cubs called In and Out, there’s a lot of In and Out as you would expect, and In gets lost. When Out eventually finds him, mother bear asks how ? “Oh” comes the reply” Instinct.”
Instinct was respected in my family, running parallel with education and intellect. And I think of it every time I meet a particular neighbour who speaks to you as if you were a small child with dirty knickers, very full of himself, probably not helped by the fact that I am not a man. I want to smack him. I don’t see him often, thank heaven, and then I clench my hands for this is not the moment for instinct to out.
And then there is Tito, the opposite end of the spectrum, older, poorer, Afro-Caribbean, conversationally gentle but if there is time to exchange more than two sentences, he immediately launches into a long unwinding discharge of every bit of bad news and conspiracy theory
you have ever heard about and 26 you can’t imagine, unconnected. I wonder how it all began, why he thinks that this stuff is any more use than the garbage through which we are wading at the moment. I gently ease myself away, telling him it’s cold, go home.
And of course I had to meet both of them, one after the other, in the cold and pouring rain. I can’t wish the Bully badly, his hidden good qualities have brought him a delightful wife and a very bright and beautiful son. And I don’t wish Tito badly – I just want to know where he gets all this rubbish from, how it started, what is its appeal to him, other than endorsing paranoia. While my instinct is completely contradictory: I want to hit the twit
and be very patient and gentle with the other.
Instinct is sometimes impossible to explain. And I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about analysing it. I respect it, acknowledge it, file it and draw on it. It’s useful. What you feel is your reality and if that’s what you feel, there will be a reason for it.
Deep in conversation with Snowdrop who had rung from the frozen north, I confessed that I found the present Attenborough series on BBC1 difficult to sit through because of the music. Snowdrop is a film and radio academic – he understood immediately. “Too much music” he said “distracts your attention from what is in front of your eyes.
It’s pulling you in another direction, delivering cues you may not need or want … and interfering with the voiceover which is Attenborough at his best. I am sure it sells it to a lot of people but it is unbearable to me.” Thank you. Not just blind instinct but instinct as a trigger to thought, a process of choice … We are all different, thank goodness but I don’t want music and speech and pictures. The bits don’t fit. Each to his own.
Perhaps we are not really talking about speech or music (or speech and music) we are talking about sound. The other day by chance on PBS (an American network I have had to explain twice in 2 days) I saw Ben Ferencz, whom I did not know and whose name I have never pronounced, now 100. At the time of the Nuremberg Trials he was the youngest attorney (27) and it wasn’t what he said but the sound of it that I found really uplifting because it was pragmatic and plain and accessible. He was dry and funny and I know that part of his appeal was his very old hands .
I like old hands. They’re like maps . When you ask people to go through terrible things, you must be prepared for them to reach deep into their instinct to survive and go forward. Better if they can explain some of it to you.