Monday, 11 February 2013

Outsiders of the world unite

He had pale blond hair which hung limply around his ears and down to his shoulders, with an ill-advised straight-across fringe that did little to draw attention away from his huge, hooked nose.  Skinny to the point of bony, I recall that his limbs looked too long for his body and that his fingers looked too long for his hands.  Large feet, too.  Always inside Clarks Wayfarers shoes (we used to call them ‘Cornish Pasties’.  If you know the footwear I mean you'll know why).  They were just visible beneath the hem of his light brown and highly unfashionable flared cords. 

Then there was his voice.  I first met him when we were 16 but, even at 30 (the age he was when I last saw him briefly) it was as if it hadn’t quite broken yet.  It oscillated unpredictably between high and low notes, and it took a while to get used to realising that the variation in octave didn’t actually indicate surprise or fright or any other emotion.  There was just something not quite right with his voicebox which gave him a strange kind of involuntary yodel.

I spent three years in  his company at art college when we were in our teens;  he became one of my best mates there.  I liked him, I felt safe with him, felt like I understood him.  Plus, being shy too, I was comfortable enough with him to really be myself and to not feel inferior or intimidated.   Our friendship was liberating.  We’d frequently go to the town’s record shop at lunchtime and browse through the album racks, I’d take the piss out of the heavy metal LPs he pored over while he laughed at the names of some lesser known bands I searched for.  I won him over to the B52s for a while, though - I remember that.  Like many really shy people who find themselves treated as outsiders, he had a great sense of humour - nicely dry and often wickedly caustic.  And he was the most wonderful artist, the best in the class by a long stretch.  He had an incredible imagination and an amazing talent for difficult perspectives and angles that the rest of us would never even begin to attempt  (in fact I still won’t).  But, the last I heard of him, he was long-term unemployed, long-term single and living alone in a town centre tower block bedsit.  I just don't think he had what it takes to fit.

There’s no punchline to this post, no twist, nor revelation – I don’t even know quite why I started thinking about my old college mate in the first place!  I suppose I was just wondering why it is that some of us feel like ‘outsiders’ (even if in disguise…) and others don’t.   Who decides what the ‘inside’ is?  And who decides what fits in it? 


This is the song I turned him on to.  Funny how you remember these things.
And it still sounds great to me!

21 comments:

  1. Life spent in the quiet interior is often more hazardous than for those who choose to play chicken in the fast lane.

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    1. Ah, you've set me thinking there, bena48! I'd never considered it like that before.

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  2. I think I know him. Well, obviously I don't but he reminds me of quite a few people I *have* known. It's a difficult place to be and the world is so unforgiving of those who 'don't fit'. Unite! Yes, unite.

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    1. Yes, I know just what you mean.
      What seems the most poignant in this case is that, as far as I'm aware, he's never made use of his immense talent.
      But of course I could be wrong - maybe he's out there somewhere, living the high life and doing amazing artwork under an unrecognisable pseudonym!

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  3. BTW...I had some of those shoes once. We called pasties, too. I rather like them.

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  4. I owned two pairs: a tan pair and a darker pair. God, they were comfortable. Cords, again, guilty as charged. However, due to inner thigh chafing I could never sneak up on people - my chords heralding my approach from fifty paces.

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    1. :-)
      I'm seeing a new sub-branch of The Outsiders forming now: *Cornish Pasty Wearers of the World Unite*

      (Ah yes, I do remember everyone said they were indeed very comfortable. Unfortunately, in my shallow teenage years comfort was just very low in my considerations when choosing footwear. Oh, the pain of those patent boots!)

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  5. Yep I do recognise the outsider gene -hard but somehow we know its not us that doesn't get it, its the rest of the world who just aren't paying proper attention. As for the disguise well its a heavy one -I am quite fond of a bit of entryism. But I never wore those shoes...

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    1. I confess I'm glad to hear you never wore those shoes!!
      I like the idea of a little entryism too. I guess the best way to be is outside in the inside, if you see what I mean?

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  6. One thing the internet has done is made it easier to find people who are worth being in with.

    You couldn't beat the B52's with a fried egg.

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    1. That's one of the best things about the internet for me too.

      Now.. your comment about the B52s has me intrigued (well you remember my Natural Blonde post...) Does it mean, you can't physically beat them with a fried egg (it'd just go all runny)? - or does it mean *even* a fried egg isn't better than the B52s? - or does it mean there's just nothing as good as sitting down to eat a fried egg with the B52s playing at the same time? I think probably the latter... yes? ;-)

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  7. I like this one it reminds of a guy I worked with briefly who everyone ignored....except me of course...hell i am going to save this story for a future post...sorry!

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  8. Cornish Pasty shoes, remember them well.

    I also remember that in deeply untrendy early 80's Wales, going to art college was liberating for anyone who didn't fit. It was like we all suddenly found our square/round/triangular hole overnight. Sadly I can think of a few casualties who never really found acceptance AFTER art college and were doomed to remain in splendid isolation.

    I like to think that their hermitage is voluntary, that they are setting themselves apart from the mundane and the mediocre while enjoying a fantastical universe of their own invention. I guess that used to mean a slow descent into madness but you are right, the internet is a great leveller, the world is available at all our fingertips now.

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    1. That's so right about art college - yes it was good to feel a part of that strange bunch of misfits for a few years!
      I like the sound of your voluntary hermitage'd and would like to think that about my old mate. All this talk of t'internet now though is making just a teensy bit anxious that he's sitting there reading this right now and cursing me for mentioning those shoes...

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  9. I always worry for your friend and people like him. My concern is for their happiness and well being. Loneliness seems to afflict so many in this so called connected age. Talent is theirs to do with what they wish (or not).

    The meat and potatoes squashed out through the eyelets or was that just in my locality?

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    1. Well that's the thing. I don't know where loneliness starts and natural reclusiveness ends - or maybe there's a blurry line somewhere in the middle - whatever, I hope he (and others like him) are happy. He was good fun and sweet-hearted (and now I'm thinking about him even more!)

      Ah yes...I think that was just in your locality! Though maybe you called those meat and potato pasties 'Clarks Wayfarers'?

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  10. Love your post C, gosh, it reminds me of my art college days! It wasn't just one outsider I adopted but a band of about 3 or 4. We all came from different backgrounds, and had our own sense of style(mine was more function-not fashion). We were such an unlikely bunch, but we had lots in common. Music, art, having a laugh and we never judged each other.

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    1. Thanks SH! I love that about your own art college days. It's those unlikely bunches which make for some of the best combinations I think... so good to be free from judgement.

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  11. I was one of the cool kids so I can't relate. No not really, I think I was on the periphery of the cool kids, a prerequisite being you had to do butane, drink moonshine (living in Saudi Arabia) smoke weed and sneak out at night. I was a skater and therefore our group were outcast as we didn't do any of that stuff and I guess we had a focus in life. But I was friends with some of the 'cool' guys so I sort of had membership privileges when it came to avoiding fights or having our boards stolen. There was also this one kid that now, in hindsight, I cringe each time I think of him as he used to get so much abuse from all of us in class. Kids can be so cruel, we used to call him fluffy jeans because of these nasty jeans he wore and one time he was challenged to a fight and his dad came along to make sure it was a fair one. Good post C, I think I will dig out a few of these stories just to exorcise some demons!!

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    1. Sounds like you had it about right really - not likely to get into serious trouble with the 'cool' kids, but still able to use some of the privileges.
      There's always one in the class that gets abuse, though, I think. The one who did in my art group above was not the friend I describe here, he was actually quite well-liked, just a bit of a loner and perhaps misunderstood. But there was one other boy who did get mocked all the time - he just didn't have much of a personality I'm afraid and seemed very young for his age (which wasn't such a good thing at 16-18!) All power to him, though, because he took it all in good spirit and I never felt he was being bullied as such, he just tended to be the obvious target for light ribbing, mainly from the other boys.

      Would love to read more of your stories!

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