(Coker – The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham)
A word of explanation to start.
In Ireland, a ‘Flag Day’ is when you go out onto the streets and collect money for a particular charity or club. The little sticker you get for your lapel after contributing is called a Flag. Okay?
I have a particular trait which I think most people possess a little bit of. It’s just that I seem to possess an awful lot of it It’s not a conscious thing by any means but I am a naturally self-aware person so I often catch myself doing it and then I actually hate myself for doing it.
It’s just this:
I like to give people what they want.
If I’m talking to a bunch of guys in a pub, I can be crude and conspiratorial and enormously politically-incorrect. If I’m talking to a little old lady, I can be sympathetic and saddened and dismayed and supportive, as required.
I tend to give people the ‘me’ which I think they might best like to see.
I know we all do this to some extent. I even said it earlier (read back). Maybe I don’t even do it any more than others but I think I do and that’s enough to annoy me. Why can’t I just be myself with everybody and let them take me or leave me as they choose?
I remember finding the character of Coker in the novel ‘The Day of the Triffids’ and immediately identifying with him for his trait of changing his manner of speaking depending on who he was addressing. It’s the closest I’ve come to finding myself in a fictional character.
This habit of mine is bad but it gets infinitely worse whenever Flag Day comes around.
Every year, I stand outside my local Supermarket and ask people to help towards the upkeep of our local tennis club. It’s there that this ‘Coker’ quality of mine reaches manic and exhausting proportions.
Standing in the lobby of the store, I see whoever is coming towards me and, in order to extract a little funding – or at least not get beat up – I give each one a little of what I reckon they might want. I look sad for the old ladies, pissed-off for the guys, funny for the kids, businesslike for the shop-manager, friendly for the emigrants, small for the police, big for the pretty gals…
It’s completely and utterly bloody exhausting. I would imagine if a security camera caught me, it would present a bewildering array of attitudes, stances, facial expressions and movements.
Kid Chameleon, in full flight.
Of course, I’m not like that all the time in real life. Mostly it’s very subtle and I doubt many would even notice it. But, like the title says, flag day and its peculiar requirements brings it out in me.
Confounding all this disgraceful emphatic posturing is the manner in how I deal with people who might challenge or attack me in any way. I cannot bear to be messed with, disrespected, or maligned. Those people – and there are always a few on Flag Day – may be surprised at the passion and vehemence of my response to them. That, perhaps, is when I am closest to being that elusive character – the ‘real me’.
So perhaps I wish I could be the ‘real me’ a little more often. But who is the real me? The ‘me’ who exists when no one else is around is a rather silent and deflated sort of a fellow. Not someone you’d jump to spend much time with.
I sometimes think the best description of me would be as a sort of a mirror – when nobody’s in front of me, there’s not all that much going on…
Perhaps the ‘real me’ really is this hybrid mimicking fool who alters himself to suit whatever background he currently occupies. Perhaps I should just accept that fact and move on.
What do you think?
Whatever you say, I’ll probably agree.