Sunday, 7 February 2010

I have a reputation to maintain in Waterstones

For ten weeks every term, my daughter attends a drama session in the Maddermarket Theatre in central Norwich. Consequently, on many Saturdays I get and hour and a quarter to wander round town ALL ON MY OWN. Not being overly into shopping, I mostly watch the buskers (photo is of 'puppet man' - not exactly a 'busker' but well known and loved in Norwich. He plays pop tunes on his cassette player, wiggles hand puppets around to the music and places all the coins he's given in neat lines on his cardboard box), look at shops (they are quite pretty), lap up the atmosphere and enjoy bumping into people I know.

The other thing I love to do is sit at the 'STUDY ONLY - no drinks or food allowed at this table' table in Waterstones and read books from the Oxford 'Very short introduction to....lots of interesting subjects' series. (That is after I visit the education section and force all my books into very noticeable positions). The table is very near the till, so I think I might have become a familiar view for the staff. I have been known to buy these books too (I own one on Jung and another on racism) but I enjoy perusing them all. Every time I pick one up - whether it's on consciousness, the brain, sexuality, design, socialism etc - I always find something thought provoking. I have taken to asking for a pen, so I can copy bits. I have a reputation for returning the pen, so they are happy to lend me one. I have never been known for dressing smartly I so hopefully they think I am poor and possibly a little simple and the pity this assumption arouses evokes tolerance. I haven't been asked to move on yet.

Yesterday I copied this from 'A brief introduction to the meaning of life, by Terry Eagleton' who by his own admission knows such a book could not be taken entirely seriously. Anyway, near the back he wrote:

As for wealth, we live in a civilisation which piously denies that it is an end in itself and (I think that 'and' should be a 'but' shouldn't it?) treats it exactly in this way in practice. One of the most powerful indictments of capitalism is that it compels us to invest most of our creative energies (sadly so true - do we have much energy left for something more remarkable?) in matters which are in fact utilitarian (hours spent in the acquisition of more clothing, food, recipe books, footwear, soap dishes, door mats, crockery...!) The means of life become the end (oh how shallow and uncreative we are - there must be more to it). Life consists in laying the material infrastructure for living. It is astonishing that in the twenty first century the material organisation of life (washing, cleaning, etc) should bulk as large as it did in the Stone Age (isn't it just). The capital which might be devoted to releasing men and women at least to some moderate degree from the exigencies of labour is dedicated instead to the task of amassing more capital. (which we then spend mostly on laying down more of the 'material infrastructure').

It does make me think we should have moved on a bit by now.

And do you want to know what he nearly concludes is the meaning of life after one heavy and involved philosopical debate?


Love and happiness.


  1. The author of this and I are in wild agreement. We put so much of our lives into make money and then making more of it that the time not used in this capacity is then used to catch up on things like laundry... When do we create? When do we explore the divine in us and is this why I've recently developed a tic in my right eye?


  2. Well, here's a thing.....

    I agree, we do put a lot of time into making money, and generally speaking we possess more than we need. Not many people, strictly speaking, *need* a TV, never mind a colour one, or a radio even, nor yet a car bigger or better than a 2CV.

    But I'm not sure that comparisons with the stone age are easy to make. It wasn't so long ago that 98% of civilised humanity's collective effort was spent in making, hunting or growing food. As a corporate entity, civilisation didn't have much time for creativity. Not much time for anything beyond surviving, feeding, mating and trying to keep your kids from getting killed.

    We have extraordinary opportunities for creative play in the civilsation in which we have the good fortune to live and work. A full 2/7ths of our days we don't even have to devote to anything related to earning a living, even if we have a full-time job, a pleasure that was unknown in the stone age.

    Now I fully agree that for many people, the pursuit of money has become an end in itself, the purpose of life in fact, but the fact that we generally accept that it doesn't have to be, shows how far we have come.

    Try telling a cave man that there's more to life than chasing more and more game, or gathering more and more vegetables. They would think you were mad and explain that if he/ she didn't do exactly that, their family would starve.

  3. I would reckon the staff there have you seen you moving your own titles around, have checked the photo on the back and are happy to humour a local celebrity - albeit it a very discreet one.

    As for acquiring more and more things - it took moving to the French sticks to kill my habit of shopping and having yet more 'things'. Putting on weight helped too :)

  4. Spending time in bookshops in scruffy clothes with a borrowed pen copying bits from books about the meaning of life is a symptom of MLC. You should really be in Superdrug buying glossing shampoo and then to New Look for some smart slacks if you really want to feel like you haven't wasted your free hour and a half xxx

  5. I always think of this in terms of Maslow's Hierarchy of other words...surely we should collectively be moving up the hierarchy now we have our basic needs met...on the bigger and brighter things like self actualisation...not JUST working, shopping and cleaning!!!!

  6. Pearl - yep I agree completely too. he words it in a way that makes me think...too right...get a grip western world.

    Codgi...I suspect the author was being a tad flippant comparing it with the Stone Age. I think he just wanted to make his point drastically...i.e. we do still spend so much time doing pretty basic stuff, when we are potentially free to do much better things. I think the Stone Age person would club him over the head for his comment.

    FF - just how in the sticks are you? Did you do the Myers briggs test - comment from a few days ago. i'd be interested to see what you came out as! I think my 'local celebrity status' would be in the same vague area as that enjoyed by Puppet Man!!!!! Definitely a touch of the unhinged about me when I am out and about.

    Claire - many have tried to take me down that route and failed. Thanks for the attempt.xxxxx
    I am over my MLC. Blogging has cured me.

  7. Did I do the Myers Briggs test? I didn't think I missed one on here - as you know I love tests

    As for being in the sticks - we're in the middle of Brittany deep within the farming community - the region is the Cotes d'Armor. But we are 20 mins away from the best French festival (their Glasto). Saw The Killers and Springsteen in July (have blogged about it

  8. Hey, I go to Waterstones nearly every Saturday at sometime between 12 and 1 to have coffee and chat, you should come and say hello if you see us in there!


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