Peter is unworldly. You see Peter you think ‘What happened there?’ or ‘What didn’t happen there?’ Did he grow up never having to be afraid and this made him unquestioning or was he treated in such a way that he shrank from the world lest it eat him? And Susan is unworldly. And with Susan were there gardens and fresh air and close family or was something so protractedly shocking that it was best to look away and stay like that? But they had charm and you thought I wish I could be like that. But in a way it’s luxurious. You never have to think. But if that were all there was to it then many people would be charming and they’re not.
But I can think of a charming guy called Guy, many years ago, who seemed to drift through the world never catching his elbows on the corners and I remember thinking even at the time ‘I’d really like to be like that.’ He was probably 13. I was too. He did not lack personality, indeed, what it mostly was, I think, was that he had what we might now call a style of masculinity – I certainly never thought about things like that back then, in a way it wasn’t possible to – quite unlike so many other guys. In a sense he was less masculine, in that the available styles at that time were all minor variants on capability: some physical, some cerebral, some jack the lad or jack the wit. Guy was laid back – dreamy, smiley. Not a div though, not a village idiot. Arty. Or destined to be. Not that I had any advanced models of that for reference at that time. With hindsight I can see that the same applied to Richard, who had no academic skill but became a designer of successful chairs. Richard was also laid back perhaps slightly more emphatic. I often wonder what happened to Guy when the 60s came round. If he managed to remain laid back he would have effortlessly walked into the whole beat thing and flourished. I knew posh boys who pulled this off but it was a class-based languor – the world was already theirs so no hurry, really. But it did seem with Guy that he had a position, an attitude, an evaluation. Not because of what he wasn’t taking up but what he was like as a result of not having taken up anything that was being offered.
Reminds me of Charlie this kid my girls were at school with – he had the dreamy thing too. One time Charlie was in a race at school sports, about 60 meters maybe. The kids pelted off and Charlie walked it. Not in the sense of winning easily but in the sense of refraining from running at all. Just strolling. Not truculent. No swagger. Not grinning about it, just politely, not resignedly, doing the absolute minimum. I was with his mum and she laughed affectionately. 15 years later my younger daughter told me she’d seen him in the street and, like everybody said, she said, he was so immensely cool. Unbelievably good looking and cool. I don’t know if he had acquired a swagger. You couldn’t blame him if that were the case. But pleasing if he hadn’t.
Magnificent qualities. Despite the popular rise of sociopathy, there has been, over the last two or three decades, a softening of the male. In some quarters at least. I remember starting to come across young guys, initially in shapeless pullovers, whose performance impact was low. They seemed reserved. Modest. This was not to be confused with dull or humourless or retiring or unexpressive. Or dreamy. (Dreamy is fine but only one mode in an array defined by the absence of a fetishisation of capability. Not that these people were not capable. That’s not what I’m saying.) Even ‘cool’ carries the notion of arrogance, distance, not deigning to descend, probably petrified. But these were young men who had somehow sidestepped the gauntlet.