What is generally thought of my intelligence?
That you can make better use of it.
Ever since I returned to the grey-greenery of my teenage years I’ve been spending a lot of my time with my father, who deserves a brief introduction – he is a quite brilliant artist, semi-recluse and generator of many, many ideas – with a former nom de plum of Quaid-Bert, he now refers to himself as Hercule O’Hearlihy. Hercule’s current muse is Sofie Gråbøl (the Danish detective who wears the ugly jumpers). He sometimes writes letters to her inviting her to tea at the Baytree. One day we were walking by the sea when he said:
“Kate, do you want to see how Sofie Gråbøl walks?
“Wait there and then follow me”
(Fifteen minutes passed of him demonstrating how Sofie walks and me trying to avoid eye-contact with passers-by…)
“Kate, do you want to see how the Chief Inspector walks?”
Once when I was a child, he formed such an irrational dislike for a man in our town that he constructed (in our garden) human size vultures pecking a model of this loathed-man to death. Awkward, especially when the neighbours sought an explanation. If he teaches me the importance of questioning and thinking beyond our social confines, Hercule also acts as a potential warning – I wonder how possible it is to straddle the spheres of convention and anarchy, and if this is possible, then how do you maintain that middle ground before you start making sculptures of large birds eating people you know. If it is a question of intelligence – and Hercule is incredibly intelligent – how do you best use it, push your thoughts to the edge without losing reason.
I realised that my own mind was teetering on the precipice of insanity when I caught myself watching the traffic warden. Whilst rinsing out the mop, washing away the grime from the night before I let my thoughts wander, and as I looked out over the high street I found myself thinking about the traffic warden. It was at this moment that I realised how I often think about him. Often as in a lot, like a lot a lot. I even talk to customers about him. (Please note: This is not a tale of unrequited love, it is a tale of voyeuristic anthropology). The Traffic Warden is the most hated man in our town. He stalks the streets with an almost religious-mania, and unlike most residents, I know that he is only hated because he is truly excellent at his job. His complete lack of sympathy when confronted with panic-stricken drivers (who are literally crying over their tickets) only endears him further to me. He is ruthless. His face is part hidden, his warden hat angled – the mysterious lone ranger of the high street. His boat-like shoes pound the pavement relentlessly; he is always on the look-out for cars that have outstayed their allotted hour. He is a shiny red and black uniformed keeper of the law.
I told Hercule I had been watching him, mesmerised by his dedication, restless with my own conflicting ambitions. My greatest wish you see is to earn a living where I can be as focused as he; this realisation along with the oracles revelation proves that to discover my calling I must in fact make better use of my intelligence.
This thought was reinforced when I read about an exhibition at the Guardian Gallery, Kings Place, N1 called ‘Beneath the surface’ – which shows Steve Bloom’s photographs of South Africa in the mid 1970s (I think it’s on until the 28th of June). One of the photograph’s that was featured in last Sunday’s observer has haunted me this past week. Not so much because of the obvious social contrast but more because of the quiet defeatism seen in the man’s face, his expression broke my heart a little and it made me think of Zimbabwe – I thought of a documentary I saw several years ago when a man of a similar age was interviewed, sitting outside his home in the sun – he hadn’t eaten for three days. He had the same expression. I wrote I wanted to avoid being pushed beyond reason, but so much worse to be pushed to the extent where you lose all sense of hope. It made me think how self-indulgent I am with my thoughts. There are things in the world that we choose to ignore for our own sanity. Sometimes I angrily wonder how there be so many people living such brutally awful lives, yet we don’t talk about it. I know I’m just as guilty; all I talk about are job interviews and traffic wardens. Seeking world peace seems so naïve, but perhaps the only way to live in a better world is to do as much as you can with your own life – to be grateful for the opportunities that so many others are denied, showing that gratitude by making use of what comes your way – knowing this and living by this… well to me, that’s the best use of intelligence I can think of.