On Saturday I made my West End debut, at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road (see picture). OK, if you were being really picky you’d have to say it was in the Studio upstairs and not the main theatre. And fair enough, I had to squint a little and IMAGINE that the tourist crowds streaming into the foyer to see the Ben Elton/Queen musical We Will Rock You were actually coming to see me talk about the English motorway system. Granted, quite a few of my actual audience of c. 200 probably didn’t know who I was. And I suppose if you were a real stickler for the truth you’d have to point out that the giant gold statue outside was a likeness of Freddie Mercury and not me (although it’s a toss up which of us it looks more unlike). But these are mere details, tiny little flies in the massive jar of ointment smelling sweetly of my success. After years of studying what Lucky Jim called ‘strangely neglected topics’, I have arrived.
Thanks to James Ward for organising the event, Boring 2010. It’s about time someone took the boring seriously enough to have a conference about it. As I said in my talk, people who write about the mundane in this country tend to be met with an arched eyebrow, and placed within a particular tradition of English eccentricity, wryness and self-deprecation (see the above paragraph for an example of this defensive voice). It’s completely different in France, where there is a long and rich intellectual/literary tradition of reflecting on ‘la vie quotidienne’. If only we could write with the same depth, lyricism and elegance as Georges Perec, Marc Auge, Maurice Blanchot etc. about the Paris metro, autoroutes, service stations and airports.
Mundane quote for the day: ‘I am busy proving the falsity of the dictum that to a well-stocked mind the word dullness has no meaning – it has a great deal of meaning for me: I might almost say the meaning of meaning.’ – Philip Larkin, Letters to Monica