As a single, white, middle-aged man living in the West I am probably at quite a high risk of coming to believe myself to be the centre of the universe. Despite the risk factors involved, I fondly like to imagine that I mostly avoid the worst excesses of the egocentric (but then, perhaps this is true of all egomaniacs?). At least I have been spared the horrors of fame which seems to substantially raise the risks.
Usually, if my ego threatens to break loose of its bonds, my habit of travelling by public transport quickly disabuses me of any notions of being the centre of the universe. When travelling by Greater Anglia, it is usually pretty clear that no passenger (sorry, customer) is even remotely near the centre of their corporate universe. Last week, even a stray swan was further up the pecking order then we mere customers – I know that urban myth suggests swans can break your arm, but I’d never previously heard anyone suggest they can break a train. Other than some of our larger waterfowl, I’m not entirely clear for whose benefit Greater Anglia is run. I suspect one objective is just to be marginally better than First Capital Connect and so stay off the bottom of the rail satisfaction league tables.
In my more paranoid moments, I do wonder if the fact that Greater Anglia is owned by the Dutch may be relevant (let’s face it, much of our critical infrastructure is owned by Johnny foreigner). By keeping a significant portion of the UK’s working population regularly heavily delayed and so tired and frustrated, they are helping to keep the country from economic recovery to the benefit of our competitors in the Netherlands (and elsewhere). However, my more rational mind tends to remind me that the people of Holland really don’t need to exert themselves to delay our recovery when our own government is doing such an excellent job on its own.
Whilst Greater Anglia is doing its best to keep my feet firmly on the ground (well, it’s often cleaner than the seats), my life a-wheel oft has the opposite effect. On Friday, I headed into Cambridge to visit the flicks and then go on to a soirée to celebrate mid-summer. The weather forecast said “dry” – so I took some precautions – but nevertheless headed out into dry sunshine. Within 100 yards of leaving home, the sun departed and the rain arrived. I put up with this for a mile or so, but it became more insistent so I removed by shades and put on my jacket before continuing onwards. Within 100 yards of this wardrobe change, the rain stopped and the sun re-appeared and so I found myself squinting and sweating. After a couple of miles of this, I changed back out of my jacket and replaced my sunnies. Again, within 100 yards of me re-starting my journey the sun once again disappeared and it started spitting. This spitting grow stronger and after a mile or so had become torrential rain, and so I was once again forced to change my attire. This time it took some 200 yards before the rain vanished and the sun returned – but I’d had enough and so sweated and squinted the remaining three miles into town.
It would seem that the rain and sun were following me with an explicit plan to be as irritating as possible – a plan they delivered on with admirable thoroughness. It reminds me of a story from childhood where the sun and wind have a competition to make a passer-by remove his coat. Perhaps I am the centre of the universe? Or of someone else’s nursery story? Or at least a VIP in the world of earth-based weather phenomena? Lest we forget, when I last visited Florida it snowed – for the first time in 80 years! Coincidence? Well, quite possibly yes.
Yesterday, I headed down to Lewes for a concert – and so had to cycle to the station to catch a specific train. The day was dry except for one (relatively brief) period. From the earliest time I could sensibly leave for my train until just after the last time I could leave and hope to catch my train it rained. Well, more than rained, it hammered down with Biblical intensity. As with the previous day, the extraordinarily tight focus on my own outdoor movement plans is highly suspicious. This time, the plan failed – I made it to the train with nearly 30 seconds to spare. However, I did have to ride like the very wind and endure significant initial moistening on departure. I think this failure did rather knock the wind out of the weather’s sails, and for the rest of the day it only made very lacklustre attempts to drench me.
The way things are going, I fear I may be entirely lost to solipsism after a couple more times out on the old velocipede. Then again, as a philosophy it doesn’t sound much fun at all given how much fun the world outside the self can offer!
On Friday, my slightly damp body was delivered to the quite excellent Before Midnight at the Arts Picturehouse before I then went on to a truly marvellous party (one I feel Noel Coward himself may have approved of). Fine company and conversation were accompanied by a little gentle music provided by some of the guests. Added to this, I managed to eat a truly prodigious amount of cheese washed down with more than a little white wine.
Yesterday, good company and fine music were once again on the cards as soon as I reached East Sussex (by now having dried off), this time thanks to the Esterházy Chamber Choir and their summer concert. The concert had a strangely appropriate first act closer (as I believe they say in the business known as show): a setting by George Shearing of “Hey, ho, the wind and the rain” (by old Bill Shakespeare, but placed into the mouth of Feste). Does someone if the choir have the second sight?
So, I shall try to resist the rise of my ego and maintain myself at a suitable distance from the centre of the universe – something which I’m sure any decent cosmologist would tell me doesn’t even exist. Whilst I’m pretty sure I’m not the centre of the universe, I do sometimes wonder if I am (in fact) a minor character in a very long running sitcom. As a result, I do always have half an eye out for the studio audience…