I have reached a stage in my life where admiring other peoples intelligence and ability to think through an idea now fills me with admiration and respect rather than silent resentment and feeling of inadequacy. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some people who anyone would put in the category of really bloody clever and their company is stimulating and humbling.
I no longer wish I was better informed or more able to formulate an idea than they are. I’m happy to absorb at least a smear of their wisdom simply by being in their presence.
I recently added someone to this list of bloody clever people when I heard the playwright Michael Frayne say “It’s always been said that there are two types of people, those who obey the rules and those who break them. But I think there’s third type, people who simply don’t understand the rules.’
When I heard him say that another small piece of the confused jigsaw of my life fell into place. I’ve never been keen on breaking rules, I haven’t wanted the attention that serious rule breaking brings with it but I have often simply failed to understand rules.
Michael Frayne was talking about his days at school, of course he went to a private British boarding school as did an uncanny percentage of the most successful people in my class blighted country of origin.
Frayne saw the boys who understood and obeyed the rules, and the bad lads who understood and broke the rules. Frayne just didn’t get the rules, they made no sense to him.
That is my life in a nutshell. At school I didn’t want to upset the teachers by breaking the rules, I don’t think I ever intentionally broke the rules as I could see no advantage in doing so, I simply didn’t understand why the rules existed.
From my earliest memories I have found rules confusing, sometimes frightening, sometimes obvious but more often than not, utterly baffling.
I don’t mean obvious written down laws, don’t murder people, don’t steal things or obvious rules asking you not to do something that would have a detrimental affect on others or the world around you. For example, a sign saying ‘Take your Litter Home’ doesn’t confuse me, I understand that and I don’t throw my litter down on the street. I don’t want to walk around a world that is knee deep in litter so I don’t throw it around. I don’t assume it is someone else’s job to pick up my rubbish. Rule easily understood, of course I worry about where the all the litter will end up after you’ve taken it home but that’s another issue.
It is more the behavioural rules I’m thinking of, the ones that change over time, cultural rules, gender rules, relationship rules, those are the ones that leave me in a mess of confusion.
Relationship rules, the things you are meant to understand when you embark on a sexual relationship, oh goodness me, I never understood those. I made such a mess of so many potentially life long, fulfilling relationships I can’t bare to recall them.
Marriage, I never really got that one. I must have grown up in a peculiar little time bubble as I have attended so few weddings. Young people I know now get married, when I was a little kid people got married but during the maybe 20 year period when my peers should have been getting married they never did. They shacked up, they had kids, the raised kids but they didn’t get married.
It seems far more young people do get married now, I know of loads, and they go on stag and hen nights. I’ve never, not once in my entire life been on a stag night. I wouldn’t know what to do.
I am married now but I’d already lived with my wife for 18 years and had two children by the time we got around to it. Thankfully my Mrs seems as incapable of understanding those types of rules as I am. Our kids understood, they were the ones who encouraged us.
A proper job. I’ve never understood how you get a proper job or what you’re meant to do with it when you’ve got one. I’ve been self-employed in one-way or another since I was 18. I’ve never had a salary, I’ve never had a paid holiday or a company pension plan. The nearest I’ve ever got to anything like that was a car park space with my name on when we were shooting Red Dwarf at Shepperton Studios. I was so proud of that I took pictures and tweeted them.
Marriage and proper jobs both require an understanding of rules. Unwritten rules, the rules of life. I want to point out that I don’t think the rules governing these concepts are in any way flawed, wrong or oppressive. Far from it, I admire people who understand them and live within their boundaries, life is so much easier if you follow them. Notice I said follow them, these aren’t legally enforced rules, you can’t really break them, you can either follow them or, if you are of a radical state of mind, refuse to follow them. Either of those options are admirable, it is the third state that maybe questionable, just simply not understanding why the rules are there or what they’re for. Just living your life outside such rules without anxiety because you didn’t know there were any rules. Maybe it’s not so bad, but I can see now that social rules are helpful. Living outside them is fraught with danger and pitfalls and I’ve fallen into just about every pit there is. There is one guideline I came across when I was a young man which at least gave me some clue as to how to behave. It is a quote from one Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan.
‘To live outside the law, you must be honest.’