Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
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.