Thursday, July 10, 2014


This morning I sat down on the train opposite a young man who was probably no more than 21. His clothes were fashionable, in a hipster-y sort of way, and his hairstyle looked time consuming, if not necessarily stylish. He was sitting in that sprawling, spider-like way of gangly young men everywhere, and reading a Penguin Classics edition of John Milton's Paradise Lost.

As the train rocked its way from Ladywell to London Bridge, I watched as his head dipped lower and lower. I don't remember if he actually turned the page in the whole time I was sitting opposite him, but by the time we were gliding through Bermondsey he was clearly fast asleep. His head was pressed against the window and his damp hair made a little halo of condensation on the glass.

I suspect if I'd seen this guy three or four years ago, I would have viewed him as a ponce. I would have scoffed at his inability to stay awake while reading Milton, despite the fact that such a feat is equally beyond me. I would have walked away feeling like I had won, in some small and unconscious way, and that I was the better man.

This morning, however, I was amused. In the same way that you can be amused by the imaginative ramblings of a cute little kid. His attempt to become the sort of person who reads Milton on the train struck me as adorable rather than vain. From where I stand today, happily married and edging ever closer to thirty, I can admit that I spent many years doing more or less the same thing. Everyone does when they're teenagers, I think, but particularly men.

There's something  inherently insecure about the male psyche, a lack of self-awareness that we find secretly bewildering. Unsure of who exactly we are, we consciously shape our actions in emulation of who we'd like to be -- a sort of internalised propaganda of the deed.

It's all a mating display of some sort, I think. Colourful feathers. Those who decorate themselves with the trappings of intellectual curiosity and creativity, no matter how thin this veneer of decoration is, are vastly preferable to those who pointlessly bash their antlers together.

Actually no. Bad choice of words. Anyone who has ever been in Leicester Square of a Saturday night knows that the noble stag is entirely the wrong animal to use as a metaphor. The dominance fights of walruses, with all their flapping flesh and uncoordinated heaving, bear far closer resemblance.

Ultimately, these displays don't seem to count for much. I don't think women pay them much attention. I'm sure that Kristen has a far better idea of who I am than I do, and made her judgement based on that, rather than (thankfully) the conceited and pretentious persona I projected at the time (and to an extent still do).

P.S. I'm aware that pedants will insist the plural of walrus is Walrii. I think they're wrong. We don't import plurals for any other language we've borrowed words from, why should we make an exception for latin?