Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Are you eccentric?


The English have always taken a strange pride in how many eccentrics they produce, but I don't believe we have any more true eccentrics than any other country - in fact, I think we have fewer (or is it less?).

Somebody asked a biographer if Beryl Bainbridge was a true eccentric or a studied one the other day. In England, this is a particularly relevant question, because we do have a very high percentage of people who would like to be considered eccentric here compared to other countries, and I find this embarrassing for some reason.

Traditionally, Engish aristocrats are eccentric. I know a couple who are genuinely so, and have noticed that their traits run in the family. This sort of odd behaviour is simply mild madness caused by generations of inbreds who have been detached from ordinary society and its day to day cares for years, and usually becomes more pronounced in later age.

I know one Lord from a very old family who is now institutionalised simply because the family cannot afford the retinue of servants and carers needed to protect him from his irrational behaviour, and he has long since sold the family seat to be converted into flats - also through lack of money. His brother has always been eccentric, and his cousin pointed out to me that all the male members of the family end up like this sooner or later.

There is a wealthy and elderly man here who used to be the principal of an Art College, and when he retired he made a conscious decision to be an eccentric. He is very much of the studied variety. He wanders around the supermarket singing opera at the top of his voice, doffs his hat to ladies in the street calling them 'madam', and spends far too long at the checkout chatting to the women on the tills about this and that. In short, he is a pain in the arse.

Close to my workshop in the country, there is an elderly West Indian man who runs a very shabby and junk-strewn smallholding with animals, and he is a genuine eccentric, but not a born Englishman. He has been known to pin up photos of recently deceased friends to protect him from the ghost of a man who hanged himself in one of his sheds, and told me that he occasionally saw the hanged man from the corner of his eye when working in the shed. I get his life-story every time I meet him, but with the latest events tacked onto the end.

"There you are, up to date now," he says before letting me get on with my own life.

I know of one White Russian emigré businessman in Paris (a relative of a girlfriend of mine whose Grandmother fled Moscow after the assasination of the Romanovs, because she was handmaiden to the Tsarina) and he never attended any banquets without having a place set for his teddybear, which accompanied him everywhere.

He also reserved a seat at business meetings for his stuffed toy, and would sometimes take the bear out of the room, saying that they needed to consult on a particular point before coming to a decision. This bear was a very useful aid to gain time or make phone-calls, so he did not mind being considered mad.

The definition of a true eccentric is one who does not know that they are, and can never understand it when they are labelled mad. Every country has quite a few of those - some harmless and others not.

35 comments:

  1. Not much I can add to that. This post will reassure your foreign readers who have learned here in recent days that not only are we class ridden, snobbish, north/south divided, we are also mad but we dont know it.

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    1. I hope so. Those foreign readers who have lived here since before the Brexit vote may take some comfort from it too, I also hope.

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  2. A friend (now deceased) was Beryl Bainbridge's editor. They were as barmy as each other, but managed somehow to get work done.

    Another friend, who lives in your beautiful Bath crescent, sounds very much like your operatic shopper. He's a very fine watercolour painter, but was never an Art College principal.

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  3. I would be eccentric, if it were appreciated.

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  4. I think eccentric means being a bit off center. Many eccentric people can be found in New York. I was also aware of many eccentrics growing up in Virginia.

    Natural eccentrics are very different, and often more appealing, than aspirational eccentrics.

    Best wishes.

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    1. New York eccentrics are unusual in that they congregate together - it makes them feel less isolated and lonely. Then they acquire kings and queens, like Warhol and lesser members of the Kennedy clan. Us Brits prefer to shine alone, without being outshone by anyone else.

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    2. Well you live there and experience it, whereas I have only visited and watched it on film, so I am glad you disagree.

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  5. I can not stop thinking about our prime minister (BB).And we have some more.

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    1. Yes, I think I know what you mean. Italy have had more extreme ones recently and the USA are set to get as ectreme as you can go, but us Brits have been very grey by comparison, ever since Lords were proposed rather than hereditary.

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  6. The deep South here in the USA is known for eccentric characters. Every small town has a couple, and one of these days I'll write about the ones where I'm from.

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    1. All of them played by Burle Ives?

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    2. Only the female eccentrics, Tom.

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    3. Now I know why I admired him so much.

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  7. I have overheard someone describing me as eccentric; I wasn't sure how to take it. I am also an introvert so you would never hear me singing in a store as I would much rather be invisible than noticed. My favorite moniker I've been called is renaissance woman.

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  8. I was told that only the wealthy are eccentric, the poor are merely mad.

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    1. And should all be sent to lunatic asylums, rather than stately homes. Yup.

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    2. Yes, in the old days that was true - before the class structure shifted from old wealth to new wealth. In the USA, the aristocracy are always rich, and usually political. No, ALWAYS political until Bill Gates started giving away continent-changing amounts of money.

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  9. Don't you think most of us are eccentric to some extent?

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  10. The F***ing Fulford's ..... the outrageous, aristocratic family, dubbed ' The Osbournes in Tweeds ' are back on the BBC. Francis Fulford has to cope with the cost of running a 50 room, decaying stately home ... I think that there are quite a few aristocratics like him..... maybe the responsibility of it all and finding the cash to repair the place makes you a little eccentric. He certainly is and his children seen to be following in their Dad's footsteps !!
    I certainly don't think that I'm eccentric, but I don't like to follow the crowd. XXXX

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    1. Never heard of the Fulfords - they must be very minor, and therefore off my radar darling...

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  11. Ok, think about this - do you know of an adult who picks their nose and eats the bogey? Well I've known worse.

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  12. Scotland is where you'll find them. The ones who wear the skirts chop down trees and toss them around a field. The others invented a tool for making a hole in the ground so they could knock their balls into it. Some hopeless cases hunt an animal called a Haggis which is almost extinct.
    Other eccentrics claim to see prehistoric monsters in lakes. The most famous eccentric was a man called Robert who lived in a cave with a spider. Yes, Scotland's the place. Just follow the signs for Glasgow and ask for Rab.

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    1. Next time I tour Scotland, I will bear this in mind.

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  13. I'm still trying identify the bear in your photo. Does that make me eccentric enough?

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    1. Sorry, no. I didn't even bother to look at the credits.

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  14. Not the least bit eccentric here, just weird.

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  15. Me eccentric - no of course not I am a very staid non conforming sort of person who always supports the rebels.

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    1. Yes, that's what I do. It's much easier to let the eccentricity rub off on you.

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