What a horribly ugly lot we are

I HAVE been having another look at Ecclesiastes. Couldn't get on with him in the past; a sententious old snake-oil salesmen, the sort you can imagine seducing young women with his nihilistic maunderings. "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher - that's me, sweetiepops, the Preacher - all is vanities." Such a deep man (she thinks), so sad, so real, so unlike all these horrible young men with their fumbling and their ambitions. And so the soft white hand slides beneath the Preacher's soft white robe (cashmere; a present from one of his flock, a widow) and all is gone into a heavy undersea flux of fronds and currents and dark drifting shadows where shape is lost and nothing knows its proper name.

The bastard. Hypocritical sod. To everything there is a season, turn turn turn, plinkety plunk tootle boing. La la la ...

... but quite wrong, of course. He was nothing like that. Before me on my desk is a photo of Luke, a smiling young man who has just been awarded a prize for being Best-Dressed Businessman of the Year. Luke has an "individuality of style which projects his personality". Yes indeed. Luke is wearing black lace-up shoes. Luke is wearing a shirt and tie. Luke is wearing a suit. Guess what colour Luke's suit is? Yes! Luke's suit is grey. Think of it, kiddies: grey!

It makes you wonder what the losers are like. All paunch and arse, I imagine, and crumpled Asda shirts (rule number 1: never wear anything which comes in a three-pack. And I mean anything) and those dreadful slimy hilum-of-the-spleen ties like miniature suburban wife-swapping carpets, and nylon socks and grey slip-on shoes. Or they might be the other sort, the dapper sort, in pale grey suits with a cowardly Prince-of-Wales check, and those dreadful shirts described as "crisp", and crisp haircuts and crisp little faces and clean, clean hands.

I wouldn't describe myself as a Man In The Street, but like most men (and most women) I from time to time have occasion to use the street; and isn't it a by God buggardly horror? All this stuff about Cool Britannia they tried on a few months ago (and quickly dropped, did you notice?); all this nonsense about Britain leading the world in flair, and poor benighted foreigners - Johnny Crapaud and Fritz and Alfonso the Cowardly Wop and what-have-you - looking up to our fashion industry and street style. Nonsense. Whoever cooked that up clearly has never ventured into the street, because it's a nightmare.

Where I live, it's fairly well-to-do during the day, full of lawyers and businessmen and people you'd think might be able to afford to look good. But no. Merciful heavens, we're an ugly lot, hunched and stooped, furrow-browed and apologetic, pale, straggly, bad teeth, lousy haircuts, a perpetual look of furtive anger, ill-fitting chainstore clothes and the overall appearance of people with a grudge, people who are affronted, people trying to look so bloody drab in case, otherwise, they are dragged off into doorways and, my dears, done by terrible buggeronies, without permission, warning or mercy.

Vanity of vanities? I wish it were. A little vanity does a lot to brighten the day. Vanity is a service to others, a form of courtesy. It lifts the spirits and cheers the eye, makes you feel you are among people who are pleased to be alive, who are hoping it's going to be another good day. People whose opinion of their fellow-humanity is high enough to make it seem worth taking a little trouble.

But not here. "It's only the office," they say. "It's only work; it's only shopping; it's only moving among fellow members of the species, and anything is good enough for them." And so we arrive at a truly drab, shambling world, a world where a man who, in any civilised country, would - even though his clothes fit and his shoes are clean - be pitied as unimaginative, can here be described as "Best-Dressed Businessman" without howls of incredulous laughter.

All is vanity? No. Not all. Ecclesiastes comes into focus as a wild-eyed, croak-voiced, finger-stabbing malcontent-in-the-street, denouncing outside the synagogue, clad in rags ... but such rags. Rags with style and flair; rags of rich soft cloth, rags which would make his targets say to themselves, "What are we doing, when we could wear such rags?"

The real vanity is assuming that you are so important, that the rest of the world so insignificant, that you are under no obligation to contribute to the general aesthetic pleasure of the street; that you need not dress with care or shave or wash your greasy insurance-clerk hair, but can shuffle along like a troll, being a nasty, ugly pain in the neck. Of that, we want less. But of the vanity which makes us all feel better and life more fun: more, please, and now.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
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.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?