Taste, don’t eat

There’s really very little in the world that doesn’t interest me. I like Art, food, wine, books, TV and film, travel, sport, History, science (my job), philosophy, ‘take me out’ and much more besides. I don’t think this makes me a polymath, an expert on anything or even especially cultured, and perhaps reflects my low boredom threshold more than anything else. The thought of having a season ticket for sport is anathema to me; to know where you are going to be sitting for 20 saturdays every year takes a lot out of the fun of saturdays. I like everything to be something of a treat, like the cinema, a G+T or dropping into a gallery. I consider myself very much a ‘dipper in to’ rather than a ‘fully paid up member of’ where my interests are concerned. That’s also true for my friends. All of my friends are more interesting when I haven’t seen them for a while, and other than people with whom I work, I doubt I see any other friends more than once every few months. Stephen Fry said ‘I like to taste my friends, not eat them’. Assuming that he wasn’t talking literally, I like his sentiments.

I’m not sure that many people would agree with me. Most people I know like to have a close-knit group of friends, or at least a small circle they can class as their bezzies. These are the people you know on more than just a superficial level; they are the people to whom you can divulge anything. I wonder why we feel that we can’t discuss (almost) anything with (almost) anyone. People you don’t know so well are likely to give you more impartial advice on important matters, and the viewpoint of someone new must be of greater interest than someone whose thoughts you know before they open their mouth. New people are often no less fun than old friends, and when you like someone new, you know that you like them in the here and now, not that you liked them several years ago, and therefore have a bond that has become more to do with time than actually having anything in common.

I’m not sure that the same theory can be applied to people’s interests. I think that most people like to be expert in a few areas rather than being mildly interested in quite a lot. If you’re really into films, you’ve no chance of being caught out at a dinner party when you’re unable to quote whole sections of the Coen brothers. If you’re really into football, you can chat knowledgably in the pub for a couple of hours before the game of seasons gone by. I was out to dinner on saturday, and when David Mitchell was mentioned, I launched into a tirade about how ubiquitous he is on our screens, before then realising it was a different David Mitchell, who writes books, or makes films, or plays on the wing maybe. There’s a class thing at work here too. Our interests almost seem to be pre-determined by the environment in which we exist. There were howls of horror at my posh boarding School when I professed my enthusiasm for American football recently (this is a classic example of something I love, but know very little about the rules). You’re a snob if you’re interested in wine, one of the uneducated masses if you prefer football to rugby, a nerd if you like science, thick if you watch ‘take me out’ and elitist if you like classical music. Bummer. I’m not sure why we seem so keen to pigeon hole ourselves into roles that are defined by others. I’ve just been watching the artist Simon Starling on the culture show, and was quite interested in his work. I’d probably go and see it if I was in St Ives. He’s a Turner Prize-winning artist, and hence is in the elitist and snobbish bracket. But his concept was slightly interesting, quite simple, and probably quite interesting to far more people than will ever see it. His photo of a platinum mine in South Africa was nice enough to look at, and the fact that platinum had been used in the development of the photo was nicely cyclical. But this isn’t an example of high Art, far removed from the comprehension and interest of the masses. It’s just being presented as such. Because some Arty-types want to keep themselves clear of the social strata they feel is a notch beneath them, which is why Starling had a carefully chosen shabby-chic look about him, and talked as though he were uncovering the secrets of the universe when he showed his photos of the gallery’s basement.

I’m pretty sure that Simon could do with a pint and a pie at the football, and I’m sure the fat bloke I sit next to at Palace could benefit from doing a bit of beard stroking down at St Ives. Or maybe no-one thinks like me, and that’s the way I like it, because I’m desperate to be different. Isn’t it all complicated?

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