04 March 2021 | or Bringing it all back home.
I don't normally hold with all this modern technology nonsense - it's against nature. Nevertheless, even I have been forced to concede that all this computery stuff and the interweb have come into their own during successive lock downs and made the whole business far less onerous. Could have done with all that in 1918.
So it came to pass that I took part in a seven-strong zoom hook-up with a bunch of old school friends, some of whom I hadn't clapped eyes on for 54 years. Such co-operation in the face of technology is quite a turn-up for the books for me, seeing as I'm normally averse even to telephones. The idea of a video conference filled me with horror. I envisioned a panoply of crabby old gits comparing medication regimes and vying with each other for the title of the greater martyr to his piles, prostate and post-nasal drip, while simultaneously bemoaning the state of the world today, (especially yer yoof and what they call music) and looking through rose-tinted glasses at the arcadian age of the 1960s.
All of which is more or less exactly what we got, with the added bonus of the peculiar phenomenon of déjà vu when we looked around the meeting and saw we were the absolute spit of our fathers doing exactly the same thing down the Ivy Leaf on a Sunday lunchtime in 1963.
This, of course, was to be followed by the ritual roll-call of our erstwhile schoolmates:
"Nanky Pants?" "Dead."
"Tank?" "Retired and living in Norfolk."
"Norfolk, huh. So dead in all but name then?" "Yup. Put him on the list."
Painted in apparently random sites in our school were injunctions, usually in ancient Greek,(1) exhorting us on how best to lead Seneca's notion of A Life Well Lived. Prominent amongst these was 'γνῶθι σεαυτόν' - 'Know Thyself'. The runner-up, at a close second, was μηδὲν ἄγαν - 'Nothing in Excess'. I have failed both of these tests spectacularly throughout my entire life.
This was brought home to me by a throw away aside toward the end of the conference. It seems that I was primarily thought of as a bit of a clever bollocks and a lot of a stoner. The exact comment was that I was one of the cleverest people he knew as I only had to see or hear something once and I'd remember it. He then took the shine off it by adding that my intellectual talents were exceeded (and, indeed, eclipsed) only by the prodigious quantities of dope and alcohol that I consumed.
I demurred. This assessment was news to me and I questioned it on both counts. On the first, I argued that he had conflated having a good memory with intelligence. The two can occur together, but there's no reason they have to. The other three possible combinations are equally feasible. I had always thought of myself as intellectually average with a slightly above average memory. Judging by my school reports, most of my teachers seemed to be of the opinion that my self-assessment was, if anything, somewhat on the generous side.
As for the stoner assessment, well, I really must protest. True, given my personality, Nothing in Excess was on a hiding to nothing from the outset. Admittedly, I did get through a fair bit in my twenties, but I haven't touched it for over forty years. OK, I defer to the pedants who've read previous blog entries and I concede that I've recently started using the gear again, but that's medicinal so it doesn't count. And anyway, it was our commenter who introduced me to the stuff in the first place, so he can't talk.
Certainly not on the generous side was my self-assessment as regards women, in particular with reference to my attractiveness to them.
Or lack of it.
I was one of three brothers and I went to an all-boys grammar school. I grew up in utter and complete ignorance of all things female. Their ways, attitudes, desires, wants and needs were a profound mystery to me. As to why any woman should even want to spend the time of day with me, let alone deign to grace me with her sexual favours, this was totally beyond my ken. On the rare occasions that I got lucky, I assumed that license had been granted out of sympathy, pity or as an act of charity. It made no odds to me. I thought any sex was good sex so I took what I could get and was pathetically and embarrassingly grateful for every last instance of it.
I did, however, study hard in the forlorn, and generally unsuccessful, hope of scoring return bookings. As this studying consisted mainly of reading dirty books and magazines(2), it was singularly ineffective in furthering its objectives. Thank God there was no internet then or Christ knows what I would have thought was normal human sexual behaviour. I strongly suspect that the writers of this soi-disant erotica were as ignorant of matters sexual as I was, and I didn't even know about the existence of the female orgasm until I was nineteen. Even then I didn't really believe it. "Don't be silly darling - ladies don't go 'Ooh'"
First-hand experience of the phenomenon, which only took a couple more years, soon disabused me of that attitude. Mind you, it did come out of the blue and scare the living bejasus out of me. I thought she was having a seizure or I'd done some appalling gynaecological damage somewhere. I nearly crapped myself. That would have done wonders for my already dubious reputation in these matters.
I did my teacher training in Eastbourne. The college had been female-only for most of its history and had only started admitting men the year before I arrived. When I turned up on the doorstep, the roll ran to a whisker over 600 women, mostly between 18 and 22, and eight blokes, two of whom were gay. With odds like that you would be justified in thinking that I should have been in hog-heaven.
Justified, but wrong. You would have failed to take into account my dismal lack of self-confidence in the face of the mystery that is Woman. I fumbled around in a fog of ignorance, misconceptions and bra straps, making both type one and type two errors; I made advances (3) that even an autistic in a permanent vegetative state could see were doomed to failure, and I suffered the subsequent ignominy of rejection, no matter how gently it was put. More often, though, I would come over all coy, reticent and uncertain when the poor woman in question was virtually pulling my M&S Y-fronts down with her teeth. I had done that which I ought not to have done, and I had left undone that which I ought to have done.
Subsequent conversations over the years gradually enlightened me to the belated realisation that I had, in my prime, actually been quite attractive to women; much more so, apparently, than I appreciated at the time. Unfortunately, this epiphany came too late to make any practical difference to my abysmal record of sexual conquests as by then I was (a) too old, saggy and raddled and (b) married to a woman who could incapacitate a man at twenty paces with just one look.
It was probably just as well, really. I am too weak a character. Had I known my true allure I would have been singularly incapable of resisting taking advantage of it whenever the opportunity arose, and that would not have made me a better man.
Would I have been happier? Perhaps, perhaps not. More satiated? Possibly. Probably less frustrated. Without doubt smugger and more arrogant, and almost certainly universally loathed. But not better.
So, all in all, things probably turned out for the best.
Be careful what you wish for.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
If Youth only knew. If Age only could.
My only real regret in life is that I didn't have more sex and take more drugs.
I can manage about three minutes then I need eight hours sleep and a bowl of Wheaties.
1) Attribute the above quotes.
2) Find allusions in the text to the following artistes/works:
Bachman Turner Overdrive.
The Book of Common Prayer.
Robert A. Zimmerman.
(1) This was rather ironic given that Borden Grammar, despite its pretensions to equivalence with a minor public school, taught no Greek, Ancient or Modern.
(2) Reveille and Parade, mainly. Innocent days. Cosmopolitan was more use.
(3) Polite, diffident, self-effacing and tentative advances, I hasten to add. I'm not Donald Trump.
More Mr Bean.