A look back at my Casanova years

IF WE WANT a good research topic we need look no further than under our own noses, that locus of all our perplexity and incomprehension, the place where we cannot see things even if they are there. The expression itself is a good place to start. Take an object. Now place it under your nose. Can you see it? Of course you can't. So why do we say "He couldn't see it even if it were under his nose"? The reason is simple: it's the sort of paradox we can't even see if it's under our nose. And while we're at it, why have we given computers a range of excuses we don't allow ourselves? Why, when we get some screamingly illiterate communication from the council, can we not simply say "Syntax Error" and refuse to deal with it? Why can't we write back to the Inland Revenue saying "Sorry. File not found. Error_Num 1833FF" and have them go away for ever? Why can't we just, you know, lock up, freeze, crash or hang?

Except we do. And then they shovel us into a hole, the rude bastards. Flu Epidemic Sweeps Country, Brings NHS To Its Knees (which it has been brought to so often one wonders how many knees the NHS actually has), while all the undertakers start ordering in bulk cerecloth and rubbing their hands in glee. They must buy the stuff in tubfuls, this time of year. Which leads us straight into another under-our-noses paradox. Lives, communities, nations, entire civilisations have been formed or disintegrated as a result of our desperate search for a second chance. What else is religion but a codified and institutionalised set of criteria for getting another go at things?

Yet whether it's straightforward reincarnation, metempsychosis, absorption into the Ultimate Great Cha'am or good old-fashioned heaven 'n' hell, we don't need any of it, because, right under our noses, there are second chances and third chances and nth chances, all the chances you'd like; it's just that we don't see them because they are - guess where? - under our bloody noses. Perhaps the thing to do would be to cut off the organ concerned, and if it turned out, as suggested, to spite our face, then so much the better. How do you feel about your face? Quite so. Me too. "No oil painting" doesn't even begin to cover it. And yet, the other day, I was looking at some photo-graphs of myself 15 or 20 years ago, and I suddenly thought, "Good heavens, I was rather a good-looking young man," which was quite the worst thing I could have thought, because there was suddenly borne in upon me an extremely irritating sense of time wasted and opportunities missed.

It was the spectacles that did it, I think. After spending the first seven years of my life bumping into things and not being able to see the blackboard, I was fitted out with a pair of bins and the world sprang into focus for the first time. Generally speaking, I liked what I saw, with the sole exception of myself. From then on, when I looked in the mirror (which I did constantly, drawn to it like a tongue to a hollow tooth) I saw, increasingly, a sort of human abomination best summed up in the venerable phrase "four-eyed git". Being a myope, I couldn't play manly sports; unable to play manly sports, I cultivated a disdain for them, and for all things of the body, with the result that, when adolescence kicked in with its hideous inexplicable growth spurts of things like the feet, the follicles and the nose (presumably the better to put things under in adulthood) I came to the view that my natural home was hanging off a parapet on Notre Dame with rainwater pouring out of my mouth. Self-esteem? Excuse me?

And so it went on. There's popularly a correlation between short sight and intellect, and I can tell you why: myopes feel excluded from the rough physical world of sport and manly endeavours. We can't play rugby, we can't get into fights, we can't become fighter pilots, we can't (or couldn't, when I was at the age when it was important) wear cool Ray-Bans, having instead to settle for ludicrous dark plastic flaps like prostheses which clipped over our specs.

Excluded thus from the world of butch physicality, of hanging out on street corners and talking out of the side of the mouth, excluded even from getting about in the rain because our glasses steamed up and left us bumping into things just as we did before we got the buggers in the first place, we myopes retreated into the world of books and I think I speak for all of us when I say you come out of that one with a fine line in intense and speculative animadaversion but no small talk at all, and the sense of oneself as a disembodied brain. And what woman would want to take a disembodied brain to bed with her, unless talked into a dazed and acquiescent stupor in which she neither knew nor cared what was happening to her, only that the endless talking - Brahms, Schopenhauer, the futility of human aspiration, eigenvectors, Scotism, Caius's expedition to the North, Samuel Beckett, the Krebs Cycle, you name it, I bored them with it - had mercifully stopped.

Do you know what would have been nice? It would have been nice to think, "I'm a nice-looking fellow, I think I'll go up to that woman over there and say, 'Hello, I'm Michael, what's your name?'" Couldn't do it. Sure she'd have said, "Never mind your bloody name, who the hell let you out like that?" But there are second chances. The photographs I saw at my parents' house were unequivocally those of a very handsome young man, and although I can't go back and be him, I can at least now have had his past, by a sort of process of self-hypnotic historiography. I can look back on years of effortless conquest and broken hearts, of women swooning, of unassailable self-confidence. I can shed all the strategies I constructed to hide my self- disgust and become someone who was in his youth a dreamboat, a matinee idol, a sex-god: monosyllabic, dim, sporty, arrogant. I can become rich. I can have a Porsche. I can hang out with women with plastic bosoms who don't understand a word I say; but that won't matter because all I'll be saying is, "I was really handsome when I was young! And now I'm rich! How much did you pay for your bosoms!"

Religion? Who needs it when the truth is right under our noses?

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album