I didn’t write anything on here last week. In fact I didn’t do much at all. The UK was struck with a heatwave, which in turn struck me down with the kind of inertia that only comes with Spanish sun married to English humidity. Clamminess, sleeplessness, and a week of lounging about in my dressing-gown trying to get through Howards End without falling asleep. E.M. Forester’s prose is fine, but both reading and sitting in a slumped position have the effect of sending me to sleep. The former activity is relaxing and surprisingly introspective. The latter, as I’ve known for years, is asking for trouble.
What has been preoccupying my thoughts for the last week, however, has not been that people don’t connect, but rather that social media gives an unsatisfyingly abridged account of human life. Of course, this has been pondered on in many articles before, but scrolling through Facebook or Instagram last week presented me with a long list of people who were determined to actively spend as much time in the sun as possible. Even a conversation with a friend on WhatsApp revealed her to be strolling from Canterbury to Whitstable – a walk of several miles each way – on the kind of day when my body is acerbically informing me that it cannot face living with gusto. Were they all really not exhausted? No: I’m certain that they were. Flopping on the bed, though, is neither becoming nor compelling reading. So, we edit it out.
Why should people share the minutiae of their lives, though? Gustave Flaubert said something about letting a horse defecate in the same room that you eat in, and treating both acts of life with equal reverence, but why would anybody want to hear about daily defecation? Members of St John’s College, Oxford, if the website is to be trusted, buoyantly fill their days with the kind of extracurricular activities which would confine me to my bed, overcome with exhaustion both emotional and physical: rowing before breakfast and then convening a few student societies in their study breaks. Only one confessed to eating cake, and even that act of hedonism was spoilt by its taking place in a social setting.
On the contrary, I wake up and do a load of washing-up, fuelled through it by at least one black coffee. Although I make sure to invest a reasonable percentage of my time in fairly high-brow activities, I spend unfortunately longer either trying to fathom out daily household chores, performing them, or recovering from them with one of either: cake, a nap, going to bed early, or browsing the internet for information on obscure subjects – like examples of how, if at all, psychotic people can be shaken out of their delusions without drugs.
But, why are life’s daily tasks (or battles) so rarely mentioned? We are more and more at the mercy of those, especially celebrities, whose lives appear nothing but glamour that we forget how we all have an “off-screen”, personal, humdrum life. Dame Julie Walters famously weeds her garden. Mary Beard sits at her kitchen table in her dressing-gown: read her blog, ‘A Don’s Life’. And why shouldn’t we take an interest in how others treat life’s chores? They might not be particularly edifying if dwelled upon – but aren’t they better than heavily-edited photos of that day Margate Beach became almost literal Heaven?
Anyway – I’d better mention that I went up to central London last week to visit ‘The Hardy Tree’ in Camden…