My friend reaches across discipline, plucking ideas, events and folklore at will to pepper his conversation. Listening is a pleasure, contributing is daunting, and I wish I could make notes so I could pass off his effortless pansophy as my own at a later date. I drink lager, which emboldens me to stop doubting myself and loosens my tongue, and I manage one or two profound observations which make him pause with delight as he approves them, or failing that I make simplistic profane proclamations, which disarm him with charm and primitive logic.
I make my excuses, and get into bed.
"It's unfair," I text. "I am at heart and head a basic man, but one cursed with the awareness to realise this. He makes me panic that I am trundling along, ignorant, coarse, phlegmatic. I am the most learned person in this bed though, so this is where I am."
[I mentioned I’d been drinking lager]
The next day, my friend heads to Oxford, to try and convince a famous Don to take him on as a protégé. I drop him off ten miles outside of Oxford on the hottest day of the year – "It's a pig of a city to drive into, and you'll have fun, walking, hitching, whatever" – and return home, with a sense that Something Must Be Done, rather than disappearing down the plughole of fatuousness without even a struggle.
I pluck books off the shelves – "this is the tragedy, the books are already here, at your fingertips" – and start to devour them in the sun.
"This is the stuff: learning! Experience, wisdom; you can only coast along with them for so long without refuelling."
I remind myself of the horrors of Gallipoli, why I prefer Gladstone to Disraeli, Kubla Khan, whether I should become a humanist or if actually I am one already, and who is who in Darfur.
Eventually though, I find I lie on my back, and watch birds and clouds. My brain slows, like an unwound clock, and I contemplate my insecurities as the moment stretches out to a half hour. Claiming a thirst for knowledge is all good and well, but suppose if it were me heading to Oxford, really I know it would be an Inkling existence that I would seek out, dillydallying in meadows and writing silly stories. I see the cat lazing in the sun, and it's not the busy ants I envy.
And that night I text "and so my occasional hanker for study is swiftly quenched and ignored once more; ultimately I am a creature of decadence, unstrenuous cogitation, of indulgent solace. And for now, I am okay with that."
[I had drunk more lager]
4 weeks ago