Being invisible has its advantages for a writer on the mundane. Who better than to write about the generic, unnoticed areas of our lives than someone who is also generic and unnoticed? Denis Mitchell, the great documentary maker, would walk round the streets of
on his own
after midnight with a portable tape recorder for his 1954 radio series, People
Talking, talking to the homeless, criminals and others on the margins of
society. He always attributed his success to his nondescript appearance. According
to his fellow producer Philip Donnellan, he said barely a
word, ‘holding the mic with one hand and a ciggie with the other, encouraging
people only with his look of battered and opaque world-weariness’. The oral
historian Tony Parker, a similarly unassuming character, called himself 'a
blackboard for people to write on'. For his 1994 book
Townscape with Figures, the then septuagenarian Richard Hoggart simply ambled
round his hometown of Farnham in Manchester Surrey, carefully
observing the rituals of the railway platforms and supermarket tills. ‘Better
to be an unknown, to float through town looking and listening, a would-be observant
ghost’, he wrote.
Mass Observation's Tom Harrisson, who certainly wasn't unmemorable - Judith Heimann uses a quote from Henry V, 'The Most Offending Soul Alive', for the title of her biography of him - thought it was better to observe people unnoticed rather than talk to them, although he did not always follow his own advice.
For a student of the ordinary, being ordinary has its uses. Other than that, I would have to say that being invisible doesn't have a lot to recommend it. If I were you, I would try to be memorable instead.
Mundane quote for the day:
I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university
And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,
And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I've never been in certain places.
Philip Larkin, 'The
' Winter Palace