Monday, 12 January 2015

Whatever Did Happen to Yorick?

January is named after Janus, the two-faced Roman deity, noted as the god of revolving doors, with special responsibility for the safe return of goods to their shop of origin after the gift-giving season.  Traditionally, offerings to Janus took the form of credit notes, rather than cash.  January is thus a time for refunds, swaps, reviews, fresh starts, and subscription renewals.

It's also a time for simultaneously looking back, and looking forward.  Don't try this at home.  In fact, here is some excellent advice, which I wholeheartedly endorse: never go back, never dwell on the past.

But, as you take the sharp January bend into a new year, it's impossible not to glance back and find yourself wondering about the trail of wreckage you have left behind, not just in the previous year, but in all the preceding years.  With the turn of each successive year, the view of the past does seem to improve, like the view back down a mountain road of hairpin bends.  What most of us see down there is the strewn debris of a lifetime of broken resolutions, missed opportunities, abandoned projects, and poor choices.  Reason enough to refasten one's gaze on the road straight ahead once more.  This time, it will be different!

Nonetheless, around this time of year I often catch myself in a retrospective mood, thinking, "I wonder whatever happened to So-and-So?"  No matter how fortunate you have been in your friends, or how assiduously you have tried to keep in touch with each other, some will simply have vanished from your life.  All it takes is a change of address, some mild "musical differences", or a significant fork in the metaphorical road.  Oddly, it seems to take a special effort of imagination to realise that you have vanished from their lives, too.  I think most of us nourish a narcissistic fantasy of walking back into a certain place -- it might be a pub, or a cafe -- where all those past acquaintances sit waiting in a state of suspended animation for our return, like Norm Peterson walking into Cheers.  Yay!  So what have you been up to for the past forty years, man?

It is the B-side of this fantasy that, just as our lost friends remain Forever Young in our memory, so too do we in theirs.  Which is weird.  Especially when you think quite how much you have changed, both in appearance (argh) and in your beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. I don't know about you, but I was an idiot when I was 20.  I cringe with embarrassment when I think of some of the things I thought, said, and did, back then.  That there are people out there who still think of me as that posturing buffoon, unaware of the wise, caring, sober-sided-father-of-two citizen I have become since, is both amusing and appalling.  No wonder so few of them have stayed in touch.

Mind you, they were mostly idiots, too.  They are probably equally embarrassed, and rightly so.  I'm thinking mainly of the ones I knew in that youthful dreamtime, at university, when everyone still had their full unspent allotment of unrealised potential and the world was -- for the lucky, talented few, at any rate -- an enticing board-game of unmade choices.  Everyone was still a contender.  The dice were still in the cup.  While we're waiting for the game to begin, why don't we all experiment a little?

It doesn't take long for that to change, though, once the dice have rolled, and the snakes and ladders of life begin.  Paths immediately diverge.  In my case, tagged as an incorrigible hedonist, rarely rising before noon, seldom sober, and ironically something of a stranger to the library, I became less-than-essential company to the career-minded majority in a college noted as a launchpad for eminent public lives.  Toxic, even.  I didn't mind: it made it easier to spot the like-minded souls.  As someone once said, the dancers will inherit the party.  And what a party it was!

 Your blogger attempts "May You Never..."
 Balliol College JCR bar, 1973 *

Naturally, in a few cases, and naming no names, there has been no need to wonder, "Whatever happened to Wotsit?" because various Wotsits did become public figures, rarely out of the media spotlight, or perhaps choosing which way to direct it.  They're welcome to it:  it's a grim spectacle, following the ups and downs of the career, listening to the party-line opinions, and watching the mask slowly and permanently fix itself to the face of someone you once knew.  You can only hope they thought it was worth it.  There are no January refunds or returns on those sorts of life-choices.

But, at least you can say: Look, there's that Yorick on the TV again!  I knew him, Horatio, when he used to rock'n'roll!


* Actually, "Home Ranch", by Thomas Eakins, 1892, reversed laterally to get the guitar the right (wrong) way round (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

16 comments:

Martin Hodges said...

I was an idiot at 20, Mike. It all went downhill from there. Talking of hills, I've never looked down on "a mountain road of hairpin bends" as I've got no head for heights. Some might interpret that as an innate lack of ambition.

Mike C. said...

Martin,

Really? Never been up one of those steep Alpine roads that looks like a row of stitching from above? Or just never looked back?

did a few of those in Austria this summer -- it's quite a challenge, being on the "wrong" side of the road, and not knowing what's coming around the next bend. Don't recommend an underpowered Peugeot hire car for doing it, though...

I think anyone worth knowing was an idiot at 20! What a strange time to be sensible...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

So it's no going back going forward, then?

PS "Your blogger?" Surely that's a Rembrandt?

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

Sure, that's by Zeke "Rodeo" Rembrandt, a.k.a. the Canvas Kid.

(see footnote)

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Wasn't he the one who died in a shootout with Luke "Dabhand" Caravaggio?

Mike C. said...

Yep, shot him al fresco, clean through the palette.

Mike

Martyn Cornell said...

I think you'll find Al Fresco was cleared of all involvement in the Rembrandt shooting, since he had an alibi - he was outside.

Mike C. said...

Martyn,

Ha! I think we'll draw a line under that one ...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Isn't it important to establish who drew first?

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

Ha! "Rules? In a palette-knife fight?" (Sketch Cassidy)

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

Alas, none of my Wotsits have appeared in the media, to my knowledge. Not that I'm much of a media watcher myself...At least I don't have that comparison to make and obsess over. (Cue Stuart Smalley)

Mike C. said...

Kent,

Had to look up "Stuart Smalley" -- Saturday Night Live never made it over here.

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

Stu's most memorable line was "Compare and Despair."

Curiously enough, he (the actor Al Franken) is now a U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Clearly a Wotsit to have known back in the day.

Mike C. said...

Kent,

Amazing... And some fool once said "there are no second acts in American lives"!

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Whatever that means

http://www.openculture.com/2012/08/ithe_wirei_breaks_down_ithe_great_gatsbyi_f_scott_fitzgeralds_classic_criticism_of_america_nsfw.html

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

Yes, one of the most peculiar renmarks ever to have established itself as a quotation. "There are no basements in French lives"; "There are no sash windows in Scottish lives"; "English lives have a beginning and an end, but no middle". Etc.

Ah, The Wire! Must watch it all again. If only someone had the nerve to do something similar about, say, Birmingham (it being a no-go area to non-Muslims, I understand).

Mike