Albert’s favourite joke is as follows. Each day he attempts some sit-ups. He can reach about twenty before he has to give up.
But if someone comes into the room during his brief exertions he always starts counting.
‘One hundred and twenty three,’ he says as he completes his fifth sit-up. ‘One hundred and….twenty….four.’
Albert loves this joke so much he can sometimes laugh about it alone.
Albert decides that the present isn’t just now. The present continuous stretches back to when humans first evolved and then right up to when we’ll live as almost endless computers. We’re not so significant, Albert decides, that each day has any value.
Carpe diem? Nope, Albert decides, let the day be: seize the epoch and grab the millennium by all means. Bring your ancestors, friends and descendants along for the ride. But squander some days if you wish. Because life’s too precious to worry about wasting the odd day here and there.
And with this thought Albert lets his Sunday paper fall to the ground and returns to the serious business of snoozing in the garden.
Albert sits in the park in central London enjoying the first of the spring sunshine. Albert likes parks almost as much as he likes libraries. In both places he can give himself the illusion of being amongst people but without the need to speak.
Albert watches a male pigeon clumsily strutting around a female. The female turns one way, then the other. Albert feels sorry for her. Then Albert wonders how she decides which way to go? Then he wonders if pigeons ever make decisions. It’s impossible to tell what motivates them to take a particular course of action. Unlike people, Albert thinks.
Then he thinks again. It’s also impossible to tell why people take a particular path. Our explanations are just justifications after the event, stories to tell ourselves. To what extent is the path taken genuinely chosen by any creature. No, Albert decides, intelligence has nothing to do with it. When it comes to decisions, he concludes, we may as well all be pigeons.
Except for Albert, of course, who is certain he has chosen to sit in the park to enjoy the first of the spring sunshine and watch the pigeons.
Albert feels proud as he steps back to admire the wardrobe he has just built from a flat pack. For once, he can see and touch the results of his labours.
This then reminds him of when he was working at home for a time while there was work being done on his house. Real men were knocking things down and building walls. Meanwhile, up in his bedroom, Albert was tapping onto his laptop, responding to emails and writing reports.
“Well, I’m actually working very hard as well,” Albert decided not to say to the sweating workmen when he ventured downstairs to offer them cups of tea.
Albert meets two old friends for a drink. After a couple of minutes, he clocks it.
‘Are you two….involved now?’ he asks.
They both smile.
Then Albert thinks about the word involved. Albert’s never been involved, not really.
Perhaps that’s sad. Sadder still, though, would be trying to involve yourself.
Albert accidentally brushes against a man in the corridor.
‘For goodness’ sake,’ the man complains, tutting loudly at Albert and giving him a cold stare.
And Albert realises something he should have worked out years ago: sometimes offence is something you actively have to take. It doesn’t just arrive, unbidden.
(Jean Arp – Man Seen by a Flower )
Albert stares at the flower.
What kind of flower are you? he wonders.
The flower looks back at him.
You can label me, specify me, the flower thinks, if that helps you manage the situation. The truth is, if you could truly absorb all my flowerness you’d never speak again.