Perhaps Not A Gentleman, After All

It has recently occurred to me that, barring some sort of radical change of direction, I cannot be a gentleman. This is not the sort of thing that might worry a lot of people. In fact a lot of people would think the concept is an archaic one and a nebulous one and a bit of a silly one and they might wonder what the hell I might be talking about anyway.

There are undoubtedly many definitions of a gentleman, although none come to mind now. Gentlemen should allow ladies to go first, hold doors for ladies, walk on the outside on the street, and things of that sort. A least I think they ought to do those things. I’m sure I’ve read it somewhere.

My own interpretation of this type of man is hopefully more relevant to contemporary life and is not so much about doing things for helpless women – because they aren’t helpless – but doing things for other people. People of any description, but particularly if they could do with some assistance, like if they are old or sick or injured or something of that sort. And yes, you ought to know which knife and fork to use and how to introduce someone to someone else, but the rules about these things are complex and not worth learning, let alone attempting to apply. No, the rule – my rule – is to make people feel comfortable. If you have just met someone, be friendly. If someone is a guest in your home and they wish to eat asparagus with a spoon, allow them to, without any semblance of fuss or protest. They are your guest. It is your responsibility to provide ease for them while they are under your roof.

Now the whole host thing is an area of struggle for me. I’m a bit shy and a bit unsure and this has frequently led to a guest with an empty glass which I could have filled or a lonely person who could have received a bit of sparklingly witty conversation from me.

You have to be confident to put people at their ease, but it was something I always thought I could work at.

What defeats me is the other element. Always put other people first. This is mainly achievable, and therefore not a problem, when circumstances are without the element of stress. But when it all gets a bit harder, then I can be self-centred and unable to find my way outside my own absorbed little world, wrapped up in me and my nerves and how I feel and why I’m put upon. And these things do not add up to putting other people first, when they see you stressed and can do nothing about it and neither can you. The result is confusion and tension and discord. Certainly it is not putting others at ease and placing their needs before yours.

So that’s that. A gentleman only sometimes, when things are going well.

A pity – but there are no good clubs to go to any more, so maybe there was never a point to any of this anyway.

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Published in: on October 24, 2016 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Deprived Childhood

They were watching the Olympics on TV, the whole lot of them – everyone in the company who was at work that day. This was only a brief interlude. While it was the sort of company which would put a broadcast of the games up on a big screen for people to watch at lunchtime or while they made a cup of coffee in the kitchen, they had not gathered for an event before this. It was the big one. You know, the one we were supposed to win? The one we were supposed to win and then didn’t, because that’s the way it goes at the Olympics sometimes.

And there was long jump on the screen before our big event, and the colleagues watched and made comments, as you do, and became transiently well-versed in the byways of this complex and irrational discipline. The athletes were compared and their performances analysed. There was laughter and cheering and some form of delight that only comes when adults immerse themselves in something foreign and trivial and allow themselves to be, if only for a moment, like little children again. Unashamed to admit a lack of knowledge, indeed positively rejoicing in it, they asked each other questions and didn’t know the answers and speculated wildly without any substantial basis in fact.

And someone asked her what she thought. She was sitting there, sitting next to him, wearing leggings and wearing some kind of running shoes. They were sitting in front of me. And he said that one of the women looked strong when he could see that she was openly admiring the athlete on the screen, with her muscle definition and general hardness. Admiration was mixed with a certain envy, it was clear, as she made comments.

“Why can’t I get that?” she said. She spoke as if it were achievable to look like an Olympian, and she spoke as if she was used to getting what she wanted.

He said it takes four years to look like that, and that it can take a lifetime too.

She realised that she was being a little silly. That’s what she said anyway. But you could tell she hadn’t let the thought go. She was still assessing or making some sort of plan.

He asked her if she’d ever tried the long jump, and she said she hadn’t. She wondered if she would be any good. “I didn’t know I liked running. My mother put a violin in my hands when I was six. I didn’t know I even liked sport until a few years ago.”

It was challenging herself that she was her real obsession. She would go on to more and greater challenges: increasingly dangerous pastimes. Running would be a memory when she began scaling rock faces and skiing off mountains.

And the desire to brag would never leave her either. Those lost years in the music room made her want to boast about the poshness of her quite featureless early life and not very grand upbringing. She assumed we would think that everything is sophisticated in England, for some reason. It was really a little ordinary and more than a little tawdry, as we learned later when news came through of her freezing to death half way up a cliff in the Andes, and her mother came in to collect some personal effects from the office. Her mother did not speak with an accent from far way and she told us that her daughter had never learned the violin at all.

Published in: on October 5, 2016 at 7:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Different Somehow

He’d been told that they were more tactile than he was used to. They liked to touch each other and were freer with their bodies, invading each other’s personal space, or obliterating the concept of personal space altogether. There were stories of what they got up to at school, being all over each other, arms around waists, fingers in hair, grooming like certain primates do.

Things were different in his day, of course. It sounded absurd to think of it being his day back in the day, as his day wasn’t all that long ago, and how much could things really change between then and now, but they were different. Quite different. He kept hearing it. And he had no reason to disbelieve what he heard.

None of it really interested him, at first. There was cyberbullying and that seemed like it was a massive beat-up. Except a mate of his was a school teacher and he said it was a huge problem from top to bottom of every school. They touch each other when they’re in close range and they’re nasty when contact is virtual. It seemed weird. He didn’t get it. He also didn’t really care.

It wasn’t just the girls who might be given a bunch of flowers on their birthday now. Boys would get flowers too, and they would kiss their female friends goodbye and hello and just for no reason at all. It didn’t make sense. It was as if all inhibitions had been cast off and that must mean everyone would be happier and more well-adjusted and all those things teachers say, but if things of that sort had changed so much in a few short years he wondered what else had changed and it bothered him.

It bothered him because there was one of them, right now, working under him. He said “working under me” to himself, because it amused him to be a bit cheeky. The sort of joke you have to make in your head. And yes, she was good looking, with blonde short hair and a Superman T-shirt, and teaching him about how the section he ran might be run better. She was sitting on his desk, her legs dangling, the thongs on each foot fiddling with each other as she thought about what to say next.

Her vocabulary was perfectly good, which was what he looked for, and she seemed to lack inhibition in any form. This ought not be confused with arrogance or bossiness or conceit. She was not loud. It had just never occurred to her to be nervous or self-effacing.

And he liked that. He overcame his fear, because that’s what it was: it bothered him that much. She would be a valuable member of his team.

“It’ll be fun to work under you,” she said with a wink, and he thought so too.

Published in: on September 19, 2016 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Emerging

He told them that he hadn’t been up to much at all. That there was almost literally nothing to report.

They looked incredulous, confident in their vast store of growing children anecdotes and updates about the inexorable progress they were making in the corporate world.

They both could have given a Powerpoint demonstration on how the kids were riding bikes now, without training wheels, and how they were confident that the kids would get into the private schools they had earmarked since some time shortly after their they were born. They could then have given presentations on the current issues in the law, as they affected their careers, and how much more interesting yet taxing the work had become now that all their clients had high profiles.

It was the same person twice. Their stories were almost interchangeable.

But he had no such confidence. He had no stories which suggested maturity and success and confirmation from the Great Architect that he was on the right path. There were no photos in his wallet, no smiling kids, looking up at their daddy. There wasn’t even a photo of Ingrid. She and he didn’t do that sort of thing, and anyway, if they had, and there was a photo of her, he would have to explain that they weren’t married, because, frankly they couldn’t afford it. He couldn’t afford to ask and so they couldn’t do it. It was shameful, the whole thing was, and he so wished there could be some sort of pride in some aspect of his life.

But what could he tell them?

“You mean, you’re still at the same place?” the older one asked. And he was. He worked at the same place he had been at a decade ago, and the pay wasn’t much better now than it was then, and they couldn’t understand that, so he didn’t try to explain it.

He tried to change the subject, but the younger one steered the conversation back towards his life and his reticence to talk about it.

“You can tell us, mate,” said the younger one. “Go on.”

When he started to tell them they seemed interested and he felt liberated. For so long he had kept these things – these decisions and indecisions and feelings – secret from other people. It felt good to lay out some of it, connect the parts together. Show how it formed a coherent whole.

He was an emerging writer, which meant almost nothing at all, except that he hadn’t become a success yet. Or not the success he wanted to be. He feared that he would be an emerging writer forever and never actually emerge. Worse, he feared that he might not even really be emerging yet, and wondered if he had been lying to himself about a few rather pedestrian instances of early success. But these were word games really, and that was what writers did, partially, so he apologised for going round in circles a bit.

They both took a sip of wine and leant in, across the table in the restaurant.

He was worried. Worried he might have wasted his time and worried he might have spent so long doing it that there would be no chance to do anything else. It was surely too late now.

And he would never have a house or a decent car or a daughter. They took these things for granted and could only dream of security like that. In truth he found it hard to even imagine not having that fear pursue you wherever you went.

You needed time to write and he had that with the job he did and you hoped you were just putting off some of these signposts of maturity for another time, when you were ready, established, emerged.

But nobody wanted to publish his stuff. He wondered if he was making progress. He wondered what he needed to do to get noticed and he wondered if he wanted to make any changes anyway.

“You two talk about how hard you work, and how hard your lives are, but I would swap with either of you, right now.”

They scoffed. They couldn’t help themselves. They treated him a bit like a child, as if he had been left behind while they grew into adulthood.

“You don’t really mean that,” the younger one said.

Perhaps he didn’t. He was working on something which could become big. It was exciting and he knew he wouldn’t be able to make them understand this sort of excitement. That it could be years before it went anywhere, but it could be very good indeed.

And that was the difference between them. The work he was doing on that idea.

Published in: on August 24, 2016 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Claus’s Prolonged Retirement

When Claus finished show jumping for Austria he looked around and thought about what he’d like to do next. Being an Olympian had been a dream, but he knew he would be a success. He always had been in the past, and people told him that he was one of the best riders of his generation. His career coincided with a golden moment in Austrian show jumping. It was politics that ended it, abruptly, as far as he was concerned, and a next chapter in his life began, unwillingly and with a certain amount of complaint on his part, justified, so people told him, as he still had so much to give and it was such a shame that petty jealousies could be allowed to get in the way of one the country’s favourite sports. Incidentally, the team declined when Claus left, a state of affairs thought by no knowledgeable observer to be a coincidence, and yet there was nothing that could be done. And so he dabbled in a few places at the craft he had decided might suit an opinionated sort of cove like him. He had always been good for an interview, as journalists knew he was a good bloke, and they recognised an ability to tell a good story and they let him write articles here and there and once retired he asked, begged, pleaded – at one stage on his knees, in the sports editor’s office – to be given more opportunities to write things. First they were comment and opinion and analysis and then he was given a column in which he could mix stories from his career with his view about what was likely to happen in the big tournament. Readers loved them. They thought he was a funny bastard when he was a rider but now that the gloves were off he was funnier and it was universally recognised that he really was a top bloke like all the show jumpers said he was. Publishing was the next challenge he took on and he succeeded titanically because a gargantuan appetite for good food and better wine at lunches which lasted some hours was just as popular in book circles as it was among old equestrian mates reminiscing about why the sport had gone soft. Even by the standards of former riders accustomed to being fed peasant portions when they competed in France, Claus could prodigiously put it away. This made him sought-after as a dining companion … which lead to more lunches, and this resulted in a book deal. The first book was something frothy, a confection replete with anecdote and witticism, theories and amusing speculation about all manner of things, and it sold well. After that the books got serious. People loved them. They thought he seemed a decent guy. A man who could almost be their friend – almost actually their friend – and there was a certain loyalty that came with this. People told him he wrote funny prose and it was true. Claus was forced to believe them. He had no reason not to. And he moved into biography, and succeeded there too, with athletes and politicians and business figures, told in his folksy style, which had now become a selling point on its own. Readers wanted to read him because of his idiosyncrasies and felt like he was really talking to them. And the shift to history was a natural one, using the large team of researchers in his employ, and he wrote the same way and debunked as he popularised and people who said they didn’t even like history would read his books and more copies were sold than all of his other books and he was the best historian the country had produced, or so people told him, and he had no choice but to believe them because the evidence was there. All he could conclude was that life was pretty good, that he, Claus, was pretty good, but to be honest, deep down, he already knew that and it had been true for some time.

Published in: on August 18, 2016 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mr Nobody

It was a pretty ordinary sort of upbringing. Pretty straightforward things of no real interest happened to him every day. Or at least that’s the way he told it. Nobody knew for sure. His boyhood was a mystery. No-one had ever met a relative of his and nor could anyone find a record of his parents or ancestors. As a matter of fact, hardly anyone seemed to be called by his surname, in the city he grew up anyway. The only members of that family seemed to live in Perth, which wasn’t right at all. But we didn’t ask questions. He told us not to so we didn’t. We didn’t burden him with questions anyway. He couldn’t prevent us thinking certain thoughts, much as he would have liked to have that level of control. He certainly liked to control everything else. Having come from nowhere and being related to no-one he joined the army, as we all did, and went overseas when we all went, and the least said about all of that the better. It’s painful still, which really means that none of us wants to talk about it. Most of us would rather not remember all of those times, where life was hard and you just wanted it all to be over. And he did something tremendously brave. Absurdly, almost suicidally brave, and the rest of us really did wonder if he was trying to get himself killed, although we never told him that. He wouldn’t have allowed it. After that there were medals, many of them, for him, and he ended up in the prison camp, as we all did, and life wasn’t bad at all there, with relatively good food and a commandant who treated us pretty well, all things considered. But you had to escape, or try to. It was your duty. And he was active in our planning and in the dangerous work we did. He must have thought he’d be leading us out of the camp one night while the commandant was sleeping soundly. He was the obvious choice. But he injured himself, just a sprained ankle, but it was too close to the day of the escape and he couldn’t go. Our commanding officer wouldn’t let him. So he stayed behind while all those boys were machine gunned in the tunnel and after the war wrote books about it and about all the heroic things he knew about. People loved his books and he made a lot of money and had everything he could want. He had big homes in London and the South of France and a place here, of course, and he got married three times and divorced three times, and ended up with the woman who did his typing for him. But he was never happy and it was never happy to be around him. And when he finally died, a death brought forward by the effects of too much of a good time, which never made his life more satisfying, he was bitter about the whole lot of it.

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Stroll In The Churchyard

There were obelisks and crosses and carved ivy tendrils around the words ‘At Rest’. Cracked tiles and fragments of stone lay where they had fallen as throughout the monuments, some of very great age, are collapsing, very slowly into the soil.

The dogs stepped respectfully around plots and tiptoed through puddles on the paths as we read and paused and moved on.

There were Masons and husbands and wives and sacred to the memory ofs.

The rain came and went, several times, in gentle sun showers which threatened to worsen but couldn’t quite muster the energy to do it.

One man was born before white people arrived in Australia. There were three children, all toddlers, buried in quick succession in the same grave by parents who must have thought their torment was over. There was a little boy whose first two names were Donald and Bradman and who passed away before the cricketer’s retirement from the game. There was a Euphemia and an Honoria.

And some people think it a strange thing to visit a cemetery.

Published in: on August 5, 2016 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Job In The Fashion Industry

She was a blonde woman with a pair of tits who came over from __ and did some job in the fashion industry. Like an editor or something else to do with magazines, although not an editor, because she wasn’t smart enough. Initially she had been a model, which really means that she walked around, looking pretty, which was no effort at all, and she was well paid for it, and that was enough for a time, but then she got older and needed to do other things, as the wildly popular models were a generation younger and her own generation seemed to be receding from view, replaced by succeeding waves of young women, also blonde, also with big tits, who were the same as she was at their age in every way, except the fashions were different and the cosmetic surgery was more refined in technique. And so she became a spokesperson or spokesmodel, she appeared on the television, giving her opinions on things, fashion, to start with, and then other things, and she seemed to be guest editor of magazines she had once caused to fly off the shelves in huge numbers, and of course, she made no money now, it was all to boost her profile, a profile which had once been so big that it cast a shadow on all of her supposed competition in the walking around in clothes industry. And she went on to social media, as you do, when you want to retain what prominence you have left, and to connect with new fans and understand new trends before they take hold, in order that she could appear to be one step ahead of the game. But she was bullied, of course. She was never strong and had found it difficult to cope when things went well and harder to cope when they went badly, and that was when she was riding high. By the time that the public had forgotten her covers and shows and launches it was harder, infinitely harder, to deal with a public turned mean by the anonymity of social media. All of which meant that she was a needy person, always had been, and would need, at a moment’s notice, her friends to fly to her side, and support her when some kind of bad thing came along to upset her always delicate equilibrium. As the years went by the number of friends she could call in the small hours to tell her problems and frantically promise self-harm if it ever happened again dwindled, and so when it finally happened there was one good friend, a __ __, and a few others, who had been considering distancing themselves from her, but who hadn’t got around to it yet, and these stricken individuals gathered outside her place when the television cameras assembled, and they wore their designer sunglasses and looked glamorous in their public grief and in their secret shame, and they comforted each other like they perhaps should have comforted their departed friend, who was their friend, they decided, all bitterness gone now, and they talked of how needy she had been. Of how much she needed contact and support and how difficult it was for her to live on her own and be the strong woman she had always wanted to be. The truth was that she needed others, that she couldn’t get things done without them, and that she had been unable to achieve anything on her own for many years, with the exception of the very last thing she ever did, which was to take the bottle of yellow pills and swallow them and calmly lie on the bed in her room and wait for the end. That was an achievement of which she could be genuinely proud, and something she had done on her own.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Saturday

Item after item was presented to her and she was urged to argue for its life. Many hundreds of articles and receptacles and implements from a kitchen established first in country New South Wales, then transplanted to London, then to the other side of London, and then re-established in Sydney and added to, over many years, as gadgets and more sets of cutlery – old and new – were come by in various ways and nothing could ever be let go.

There were good reasons, in her mind, to keep the lot. Why would you throw away a perfectly good spoon, just because there are twenty or thirty more like it, only better, and you live with one other person and rarely do anything approaching entertaining people? That’s not a good enough reason. Even being broken isn’t a good enough reason. Or covered in dust. And many thing were caked in dirty grey.

For once, despite the recent progress made in the continuing effort to streamline a cluttered life, she refused to play the game. She started off well, volunteering that a shelf full of glasses could be discarded, but that quickly dissipated with the confusion which comes when events seem to get away from you and you decide that the other people are plotting somehow to remove memories of yours which should be treated with more respect.

And so many things, over a long life, bringing up two kids, feeding dogs and cats, passing through the various phases of life, have sentimental value. So many things were a present. And you should hold onto a present, surely.

There was frequent disagreement on this point, and I have to say it was a rather sad sight to behold a woman who once controlled the household she lived in, what her kids ate and how and when they ate it, reduced to appealing for the life of an obscure piece of crockery which no-one else could identify, but which might, just might, have had a story of some kind, and wished it, and other items, returned to a kitchen she no longer spends very much time in at all.

But that was Saturday.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lunch At The Place That Looked Too Fancy To Eat At

It was approaching Midday and it felt as if time was running out in all manner of ways. One of those days that seem almost over when they are only half over, there is so much that needs doing and so little time to do it. All you can do is think about the available hours and what needs to get done in them and how time can be saved here and there, which corners can be cut and which can’t, how to shift around the commitments on the calendar.

And I had an appointment, which made it all seem harder, as if the day would be a write off now, because to leave the office for an hour would surely mean the day was ruined as a unit of practical task-achieving time. That’s the way we think sometimes, some of us. Of course some people don’t think this way at all. They think about what can be done rather than what can’t be done. They see opportunities for networking where others might see deadlines marching toward them with relentless and alarming rapidity.

Life wasn’t treating me very gently at this time. It wasn’t just at work. It was away from work, where the efforts to help some relatives of mine reset their lives were beginning to take their toll. It wasn’t as simple as saying that all these things made me feel tired, but that was the most of the story. It was wearying and adding anything else just seemed like a crazy imposition – a self-imposition, in fact, as I had agreed to meet my friend for lunch.

But you have to do some things, I told myself. Even if you don’t want to.

We found a restaurant in an elegant old building, which looks as if it ought to be too expensive to eat in at lunchtime, unless it’s a special occasion (which this wasn’t). In fact it is too expensive for such an ordinary meal, but they had some kind of special on which allowed us to sit down and eat Thai curry and drink a glass of wine and discuss the Ottoman Empire and body building and the prejudices of people towards certain places in a city they have lived in their entire lives.

In the end we went over time. Significantly over time, and all my plans for the afternoon would need to be reviewed and probably thrown out. I knew this had hurt my schedule, but I didn’t care. It had been good. From a purely selfish point of view ii had made me feel better to think and talk about other things for a while, and feeling better meant I was confident that certain work problems could be solved with a creative approach.

If there were lingering questions about friends and priorities, then they were settled, for the rest of the day at least.

Published in: on March 22, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment