Mike Rowbottom: Yet another rice pudding moment

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The Independent Online

Some things I know. I know, for instance, that I like my toast buttered to the edges, and that I want West Ham to win promotion, and that I could do with some new underpants. (Actually my wife seems to know this, but it amounts to the same thing.)

Some things I know. I know, for instance, that I like my toast buttered to the edges, and that I want West Ham to win promotion, and that I could do with some new underpants. (Actually my wife seems to know this, but it amounts to the same thing.)

In proportion to what I don't know, however - Why are we here? Once you reach the limits of space, what lies beyond? Where do all the nail scissors in our house disappear to? - my knowledge is so limited as to be distressing. Let's put it this way - I don't know more than most people could forget to put on the back of a postage stamp.

For much of the time the problem lies undetected. But then somebody asks me something, or even worse, lots of things, and I am forced to acknowledge once again the vastness of my mental wasteland.

A nice lady from the Market Research Bureau called the other day with a bewildering range of questions. She seemed obsessed with my attitude towards Powergen and Digital TV, and I did what I could to assuage her curiosity.

It was when we came to the section on shoe-buying preferences that the process, which had been going on quite happily across the kitchen table, suffered a complete breakdown.

Did I buy shoes because of the price, or the fit, or for fashion reasons? Did I visit specialist shops, or did I try a range of outlets? Did I buy shoes in supermarkets? Would I buy shoes more often in supermarkets if I could? If I did, how important would it be to find fashion shoes? Very important, quite important, not important or don't know?

A feeling of unrest grew inside me to the point where words and meaning began to break down. I'd had this sensation before, in a supermarket as it happened, trying to compare bags of apples that were variously priced according to the kilo, or per apple, or on special offer, or Buy Two, Save £1, to the point where I found myself assailed by two impulses: 'Just grab any of them!' and 'Don't buy any bloody apples at all! Get bananas!'

Anyway, back to the shoes thing, I just couldn't muster any sensible response. I was without an opinion.

The fault, no doubt, lay in myself. But I maintain there are some questions which defy even the most diligent consideration.

Another market research worker rang me a couple of days ago seeking my views about a large sporting organisation. Once again, I did my best to return each query across the net, but then this flew over: "How effectively do you think they deliver a sports-focused strategy for major international events across the UK? Very, not very, or not at all?"

I was knitting with rice pudding again.

It is always heartening (only in a small, selfish kind of way, you understand) to witness others enduring such rice pudding moments.

And a fine opportunity to do just that occurred at a press conference shortly before last Sunday's London Marathon, which featured the two leading female runners from Kenya, twice-champion Joyce Chepchumba, and this year's eventual winner, Margaret Okayo.

Once the occasion was opened up to the floor, the roving microphone was commandeered by a female member of a Japanese TV crew. After explaining that they were here to make a film about Japanese runners in London, and that there were none - I think that was what she said - our interrogator made the following enquiry of both athletes: "Why do you run?"

After a stunned pause, Okayo murmured unintelligibly, and then Chepchumba said something about having to get to school.

There was a supplementary, and it was this: "Do you like running?"

You might as well have asked the two Kenyans if they liked breathing. But at least this question had a simple answer. "Yes," said Chepchumba. "Of course."

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