Sunday 22 September 2019

I'll wear that anti-intellectual hat!

“So tell me, Charlie, why do you spend so much time talking to stupid people?”

It’s mid-1980s and I’m at a dinner party in North West London, attended by an Israeli writer and a Lebanese poet.

I’ve been holding my own in a lively discussion that revealed what I saw as the brazen intellectual snobbery around the table.

These people had tunnelled into the depths of many philosophies and climbed mountains of classic literature.

Me? Well, I’d been around the block a few times, but at that time very much enjoyed curling up in bed with a good Stephen King.

“What do you mean by ‘stupid people’?”

Iris smiled, impatient that I demanded she define what she knew I already understood. (Blimey! Just reminiscing about intellectuals can make me write sentences like that!) 

“I mean, you know, people who have not studied. People who have not read. You know, stupid people!”

“But I haven’t studied, and according to you the books I read are stupid, so what’s the difference between them and me?”

Staring at me she stretched her eyes wide open, tilting her head to the left.

“What’s the difference between you and a stupid person? Come on!”

“Yeh, exactly that. You lot sit here pontificating intellectual matters that I couldn’t care less about, and -”

- and yes, that’s why you are here, Charlie. You are the anti-intellectual.”

“Anti-intellectual? Hoh now, that’s a good one! Wish I’d had that one at school, when they told me I was stupid. Oh no, sir! You see, sir, I’m an anti-intellectual, sir, not stupid at all sir, no sir, not me, sir.”

Over the decades I’ve tried to explain to a dubious Iris that everyone has their own wisdom. Her question arose as back then I was forever quoting people who had given me lifts.

When hitchhiking you’re transplanted into a unique, intimate, one-to-one in a stranger’s car or truck. For some reason, people found it easy to talk to me, so by the time I was 25 I’d learned a tiny bit about a million things.

I knew that Kiwi sheep shearers used a five blade comb, so when their Aussie competitors claimed greater speed per fleece, you had to take their 7 blade comb into consideration.

That stuff matters in Waikato.

I knew that hardcore Labour voters from Yorkshire were secretly voting for Margaret Thatcher, even though they disagreed with everything she said and stood for, because they saw her as strong.

Was that stupid, or merely a political opinion?

I knew a little of what it was like to be the mayor of a French town; what it feels like to leave your wife because she won’t let you windsurf enough; who it was that went down to the beach near the Bay of Isles each morning, in her flowing white dress and black silk scarf, to dance barefoot on golden sands to nature’s music.

Often I moved on from a lift thinking I hadn’t agreed with that person, but never did I condemn them for being stupid.

“Anti-intellectual? Yes, of course, that’s what you are!”

“Never even heard the term before, but how very bleedin’ intellectual of you to know which hat to put on my head. And there I was happy with no hat, but hey, I’ll wear that one, as long as you stop writing people off as stupid. It’s incredibly ignorant. Makes you look stupid.”

Why this memory now?

Well, to protect myself from the dumbing down of the media, I’ve developed a new rule. Depending on your lifestyle you can call BSR either the Bar Stool Rule or the Bus Stop Rule.

BSR states that if the person on the radio or TV is spouting drivel I’d refuse to engage with at a bus stop or on a bar stool, I turn the device off.

BSR includes all vox pops, those pointless segments beloved by BBC News, where random people on the street are asked for their opinions.

I couldn’t give a monkeys that Trevor from Doncaster thinks sooner we’re out the better, or how Madge from Ebbw Vale feels the whole thing’s got out of hand.

However, if I’m dissing the views of people, have I become an intellectual snob?

No, not at all. If I want to know what people think, I’ll ask people what they think.

When I want news, I need expert analysis from someone at least aspiring to deliver informed objective truth.

The perils of intellectual snobbery are best illustrated by a lift I had in an 18 wheel rig, heading past Goole on the way to Hull.

The trucker was a gnarly middle-aged stubbly Yorkshireman, in a grey faded Pink Floyd T-shirt that failed to cover his ample beer gut.

As we hit top speed on the M62, he smiled and raised his hand.

“Don’t mind me like, see. I’m listening to t’radio.”

Robert Robinson was asking the questions on Radio 4’s Brain of Britain, a quiz show that made University Challenge look like Winning Streak.

Puffing on his Rothmans, the trucker stared straight ahead as he answered each question.

“Oh, erm, Xerxes, aye, Xerxes.”

“Fulani, Fulani, oh I know them, ah, they’re them nomadics, mostly Muslims, scattered over West Africa.”

“Ranters? Now, they’d be yer primitive Methodists, weren’t it?”

“So, now if I were in t’Spl├╝gen pass, I’d be in ’tLepontine Alps, goin’ from Lombardy to Grisons. Aye.”

“The Mystic Masseur? Oh, that’d be written by that foreign fella, VS Naipaul.”

I watched and listened in awe, wishing Iris could be there.

Why do I spend so much time talking to stupid people?

Because people aren’t stupid.
Everyone knows a lot about something.

©Charlie Adley

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