I am very tired, for no good reason. I think it's because I'm off duty here and can have a couple of days off fretting about almost everything, and just sit vacantly in front of a range of hot drinks thinking about Stuff (by which I mean material fripperies, like Yves Saint Laurent eye masks, and Liberty's underwear department, not significant Life Stuff). This isn't what I am supposed to be doing; I should be writing like my fingers are on fire. This is not happening. Mainly I have been drifting around my usual haunts on automatic pilot, seeing people, sniffing the unsavoury scent of Oxford Street Tube and Berwick Street market like a pervert, trying on cheap shoes and wandering aimlessly. See Exhibit A below, Liberty tearoom with the adoptive son:
I like this picture. I can imagine us sitting in cafes like this for several decades to come, and the prospect is very soothing and makes me happy.
Fittingly, on a trip back to London, I am reading Watching the English. Regardless of its intellectual rigour or absence thereof (and reviews were very mixed), this is a book that, in the short time since I started reading it yesterday afternoon, has let me off the hook about some of my most ridiculous behaviours. It is not a self-help book. It's an ethnological study of Englishness. I wrote a post earlier this year about being terribly inarticulate and bad at asking seemingly innocuous questions and having a disabling level of social awkwardness. Well guess what? Kate Fox says English people aren't SUPPOSED to be good at things like that. It's not just that we're bad at it, it's an actual RULE that we have to be bad at it.
In the parts I have read so far, the author explains, minutely, how English people are bad at:
The author says "the only rule one can identify with any certainty .. is that, to be impeccably English, one must perform these rituals badly. One must appear self-conscious, ill-at-ease, stiff, awkward, and above all, embarassed".
Can you imagine the relief I feel on reading this?
2. Asking social questions
"In addition to our privacy scruples, we English seem to have a perverse need to make social life difficult for ourselves".
Why yes, yes I do.
I flicked around a bit, and toward the end is this diagram:
Social dis-ease is placed at the heart of English identity. So there we go, I can continue being crippled with awkwardness at every juncture, and just put it down to following the immutable rules of being English. I particularly liked the fact that the book starts with her girding her loins to spend a day queue jumping. Just reading that sentence gave me a huge transgressive frisson. I can't imagine having the daring to do that. You can see why I nearly died of suppressed rage living in Paris, can't you? Speaking of which the catalogue of incompetence continues, and I have already missed my train there. I must run away to the station to plead my way onto another, queueing with exquisite politeness until I miss it, probably.