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18 June 2007


"It’s easy if you try," sang John Lennon. He was wrong

By Simon Munnery

Everything you’ve known will be swept away. Sometimes I lay in bed trying to recall the faces and names of my class at primary school. They come back in dribs and drabs but overall there is so little I can remember of those seven years, and anyway a fair proportion of my memories are of photographs – secondary memories – and it strikes me with horror that I can never go back, that those days are over, fading, lost.

Everything changes; perhaps not everything – I may be exaggerating there – it’s hard not to when using words; still, you can at least minimise your errors by not prefacing every adjective with very or really.

Everything changes – apart from the unchangeable and the unchanged. What is the difference between the unchangeable and the unchanged? Twenty quid a week. That is my standard riposte to any question of the form what is the difference between A and B where A and B are quite similar. The trick is to utter the words “twenty quid a week” and turn on your heel and leave; for that is the essence of wit – absence.

There’s a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke entitled “Archaic torso of Apollo” which has a brilliant punchline at the end “… You must change your life.” That’s ruined it for you, sorry.

Kafka had a nice one liner on the subject: “You are the task. No pupil far and wide.”

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One of the easiest things to change is your appearance. But beware what I call the mirror trap. It happens like this: You’re not sure what to wear; you are worried about you appearance; you try some clothes on – with the emphasis on try (“It’s easy if you try,” sang John Lennon. He was wrong. It is hard to think of anything that is easy if you try; riding a bicycle for example – it’s easy when you can do it, but before that when you are trying, impossible. But that is how you learn – by trying and failing repeatedly. Trying has within it failure; you try to do things you can’t do – otherwise you just do them. Breathing is easy, but you don’t try and breathe, you just breathe. And if you are trying to breathe; in a panicky state on acid for example; then it becomes very hard indeed.) You approach the mirror to check your look. And what do you see? A worried face with some clothes underneath. Of course it doesn’t look right. So you change your clothes – and then repeat the process, over and over.

Some ladies use their boyfriend/husband as additional mirror: “Does my bum look big in this?” Tough question; a simple no is not enough for it does not deny the bigness of the bum in general. My current favoured response is “Yes. Pwhooooar.”

The way out of the mirror trap is to change your face – to not worry about your appearance. In the title sequence of Happy Days there is a moment when Fonzie approaches a mirror and is about to comb his hair when he catches sight of his reflection and realises there’s no need; his look is already perfect. If you can manage to do something similar without even looking in a mirror, then my friend you’re on the way to becoming a tramp.

A wise man once told me one of the hardest things in life to come to terms with is how little you can do to help someone else. He neglected to mention the near impossibility of helping yourself. Big J son of G, I believe, said: ”First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

But how do you cast the beam out of your own eye without looking in some sort of mirror? And even then, with a beam in your eye you won’t see clearly to pull it out.

You don’t have to be mad to be in therapy.

Misery is a cloud that passes, a knot you tie yourself. I met a girl once who was determinedly miserable; she had so many reasons for her sadness. One by one I demolished her arguments. She became exasperated – though not cheered up; you can’t argue someone out of misery just as you cannot persuade an audience – even with algebra – that a joke they didn’t laugh at was funny.

“I didn’t ask to be born,” she eventually said. “Yes you did,” I replied. She couldn’t argue – she knew as little about that time as I did.

Cheer up cheer up it might not happen
Cheer up cheer up it already has
You’re alright you got your flat in Clapham
I’m alright cos I got my best mate Baz
And we’re going drinking…