For several years now the only newspaper I have subscribed to is The Guardian Weekly, published as a weekly edition of the newspaper that in my youth was famous throughout the English-speaking world as The Manchester Guardian, and that today is even more ubiquitously present evrywhere under the name The Guardian.
A while ago the newspaper began to publish a weekly column by a fellow called Oliver Burkeman under a headline that said, “This column will change your life.”
What a ridiculous claim, I thought, I couldn’t possibly dignify it by reading it. That was, it appears from my research, at least nine years ago, during which I have never read a word of this man’s writings. I have thought from time to time, of writing The Weekly a letter asking them to give me back my full newspaper, by at last doing away with this page that I have always been unable to read. But I have never gotten around to such a decisive action.
In fact, it is only in the last few days, searching around as I now have to do for something to write about in these Chronicles, that I have given even a moment’s thought to my actions --- perhaps inactions would more accurately describe them --- in relation to my abstinence from reading Mr. Burkeman’s page.
What sort of a gesture has this been? Has this been an heroic, last-ditch defence against some evil attempt to dictate how my life should proceed? That wouldn’t be altogether surprising, since they have always stood ready and willing to interfere with my freedom of thought. But I have no real evidence for it, in this case. Has my determined abstention been based on some sacred principle? Well, I can hardly claim that as an excuse either, since I have never read a single word that, if that were so, I would have to claim was being foisted on me.
Unable to propose a single rational purpose for my determined anti-Burkeman abstinence, I have begun to think about other aspects of my behaviour and/or thinking that might possibly hold together with this, and thus perhaps reveal to me a pattern or thought that I have allowed to fester unregarded up there in some corner of my brain (I am assuming I have a brain ticking over in much the same way as other people’s).
The sole pattern that could in any way be related to this stubbornness ---- is stubbornness really what I have been showing, or is there some more suitable, more defensible word? --- could perhaps be a tendency to be rooted in the past. You know the sort of thing, no doubt, a tendency when, asked to pay $5.85 for a copy of a newspaper the other day --- a newspaper! --- I blurt out that I can remember when newspapers were 10 cents a copy. Or, when paying a $100 restaurant bill, I have this tendency to always mention that I can remember when I could get a five-course meal for $1.75. I usually, in such circumstances, find myself squashed by whichever member of my family I am dining with, at which point I can point out that I am not making it up. “I remember the name of the chef,” I say. “Abel Banquet, a Frenchman employed in the Montreal cooking school, who in his spare time kept this lovely little restaurant on Clark street, where, for lunch, the prices were at rock bottom, while the quality of the food was always exceptional.”
“The late 1950s were 60 years ago,” parries my child --- no longer a child, I regret to say --- to which I can only reply that I can’t believe it.
Depending on my mood, if they are really unlucky, they would now have to listen to my tale of how, on one occasion, when checking into a luxury hotel on Stanley Bay in Vancouver I found the price was $35 a night, so I returned to reception to arrange for a cheaper room, because I was convinced my employer would jib at paying these absurdly high prices.
Or how, on a motoring trip through the United States, my wife and I vowed never to stay in any place for more than $5. “And we kept to it,” I would say.
“Exactly when was that, Dad?” I might be asked.
“That was in 1956.”
“Oh, yes,” they would reply. ”That was the trip when you expected to see Linda Darnell pop up as a waitress in any roadside hash joint?”
“That’s the time,” I would say warmly.
“Dad, wake up,” they would say. “We’re not living in the Stone Age any longer.”
Well, back to Mr. Burkeman. Am I really going, at last, to read one of his columns? Can I do such a thing without having a black cloud of shame descend over me because of my abject surrender. A small voice whispers, “You’re crazy. What the hell do you imagine you are surrendering to? What is this battle you have been fighting? Don’t you realize it takes two to have a battle, and you have never had an antagonist in this particular matter? Go ahead, read what the fellow has to say. Of course, you know it’s probably going to be worthless, but why not give it a shot? Just plunge right on in, why not?”
And then, I see their heads shake, as if to say, “The old man… he’s going a bit gaga after all.
“Better keep an eye on him.”