Sunday, February 03, 2008

"On Single Men"

The following is an excerpt from a brief but pertinent collection of short essays.


There are no greater romantics than those who don't have anyone to be romantic with. It is when we are in the depths of loneliness, without the distraction of work or friends, that we are in a position to grasp the nature and necessity of love. It is after a weekend in which the phone has not stirred, in which every meal was prised from a can and consumed in the unconsoling presence of a gravel-voiced BBC narrator -- outlining the mating habits of the Kenyan antelope -- that we can appreciate why Plato should have declared (The Symposium, 416 BC) that a man without love is like a creature with only half its limbs.

Daydreams that arise in such deserted moments could hardly be termed mature, in so far as one associates the word with an awareness of the dangers of idealization and romantic excess. On a train to Edinburgh, I am assigned a seat across from a young woman reading what may be a company report, sucking her way through a carton of apple juice. As we shuttle northwards, I feign a concern for the scenery (parched fields, industrial debris), while remaining glued to the angel. Short brown hair, pale skin, blue-grey eyes, a set of freckles on the nose, a striped sailor top with a small but undeniable splash of what might have been lunch's macaroni. After Manchester, Juliet puts away the company report and takes out a cookbook. The Food of the Middle East. Concentration across her brow. Stuffed aubergines. Also, falafel, tabouleh and something that looks like guruko, which requires much spinach. Notes taken in curled, concentrated handwriting.

How little is takes to fall in love. Or at least to fall into the kind of heightened enthusiasm for another person that might be called love, but also crush, sickness or illusion, depending on temperament. By the time the train is past Newcastle, I have though of marriage, a house in a cherry-tree-lined street, Sunday evenings where she will lay her head beside me and my hand will comb her chestnut strands and we will quietly digest the middle-eastern something-or-other that she made and I will at long last, and for ever more and with infinite gratitude, feel that I have a place in the world.

Such moments punctuate the life of the single male, unfolding without any outward sign, in the presence of faces glimpsed on the Edinburgh train, the lunchtime sandwich line or airport concourse. Pathetic, no doubt, but vital to the institution of the couple. Women should be grateful for the despair of unattached men, for it is the foundation of future loyalty and selflessness -- another reason, perhaps, to be suspicious of the romantically successful types, whose charms have left them unacquainted with the tragicomic process of aching for days for a woman they were too shy to address and who stepped off at the next station leaving behind a carton of apple juice and plans for marriage.


de Botton, Alain. "On Single Men." On Seeing and Noticing. Penguin Books, 2005. 38-39.

Design Education and the Teen-agers Fair

The following is a passage in a book I'm current enjoying:

All design is an education of a sort. it may be education by studying or teaching at a school or university, or it may be education through design. In the latter case the designer attempts to educate his manufacturer-client and the people at the market place. Because in most cases the designer has been relegated (or, more often, relegated himself) to the production of "toys for adults" and a whole potpourri of gleaming, glistening, useless gadgets, the question of responsibility is a difficult one to raise. Young people, teenagers, and pre-pubescents have been propagandized into buying, collecting, and soon discarding useless, expensive trash. It is only rarely that young people overcome this indoctrination.

One notable rebellion against it, however, did occur in Sweden a few years ago when a 10-day "Teen-agers' Fair" attempting to promote products for a teen-age market was boycotted so thoroughly it nearly got put out of business. According to a report in Sweden NOW (Vol. 2, No. 12, 1968), a good number of youths resisted what they considered over-consumption by holding their own "Anti-Fair," where the slogan of the day was "Hell, no, we won't buy!" On the big day, buses collected teens from all over Stockholm and drove them to the experimental theatres where special programs of politically engagé films and plays were scheduled and such subjects as world hunger, pollution, and drugs were discussed in workshop sessions. In the kids' opinion, the "Teen-agers' Fair" was just the beginning of a systematic plan to exploit young Europeans by enticing them to want more clothes, cars and "status junk."

But Sweden (once again) is the exception rather than the rule.


Papanek, Victor. "Snake Oil and Thalomide: Mass Leisure, and Phony Fads in the Abundant Society." Design For The Real World. Pantheon Books, 1970. 87.