I heard a Know It All on the wireless today. It was not my normal time for listening and I turned on a programme by chance, and there he was, Mr Know It All.
My hands, I must confess, were clenched in fists of rage.
Mr Know It All got more and more knowing. There was a tone in his voice I could not quite identify, so maddening that I wanted to punch someone in the nose. There was an underlying of course to everything he said, and a faint plaintiveness. I could not quite work out what that was about. Was it because nobody could really understand what it was, to know everything? The heavy burden, the heaving brain. There was something else that was driving me nuts. I finally understood was it was.
It was pity.
I loathe pity in all its forms. I find it ersatz and patronising and bogus. Empathy, even sympathy, yes, but pity, no. Pity is a distancing device, and has superiority running beside it like a prancing carriage dog.
There is a subset of Know It All which does the pity voice like no other. These are the conspiracy theorists, who are the worst snobs in nature. They look down loftily on the rest of us, the drones, the rubes, the sheeple, who believe what the Establishment says, who do not see the hidden hand of the Bilderbergs or the Freemasons or the Black Ops, or whoever it is that week who is running the world. Mr Know It All had a little tinge of conspiracy to go with his facts. But it was percentages and reports and statistics which really set his boat crossing the stormy sea. He reeled them off, giddy with self-importance, until I felt battered into submission.
In the middle of my crossness, I stopped myself. For heaven’s sake, I said. Why should not the poor fellow know things? Knowing things is good. I adore knowing things. When I was young, I gathered facts like amulets, as if they could keep me safe in an unreliable world. I still feel like that.
I did not go to Hampstead for ten years for nothing. I turned at once to the most likely culprit, which was projection. There is a classic psychological device which suggests that the things you criticise most severely in others are in fact the things of which you are guilty. This does not always obtain. I get very cross about bigots, and I do not think I am prone to bigotry. But if the criticism and crossness are disproportionate, then it is often well to look to oneself.
I don’t do the pity voice and I don’t look down on people who did not have the schooling I did, but I am, I am afraid, a tiny bit of a Know It All myself. I was a girly swot, and I had to become the class clown to divert attention from those top marks in tests. I still, at almost fifty, can be tempted to tell people at parties about the Repeal of the Corn Laws. I drop all kinds of classical and historical and literary references into what I write. This is partly because I love references. I find them beautiful and soothing and as familiar as old friends. But it is partly a remnant of that little girl who used to get up and tap dance, saying Look at me, look at me.
I don’t scold myself for this, but I must think it, on a subconscious level, a little bit vulgar. Otherwise I should just have laughed at Mr Know It All, and let him pass on his way. I love people who wear their knowledge lightly, and perhaps that is what I would like to learn to do myself. There do not always have to be proofs, and brags, and prizes.
I think of this all the time with my red mare. I was working her today, hard and well. We upped the ante and had some breakthroughs and even broke out of our customary pootle to some serious schooling. I felt very proud of her, and I learnt a lot. As we rode back to the shed, on the buckle, I immediately started to put it into words. I would write it here or post it on one of the horse forums I love. I had to tell everyone about those serpentines in the lovely dowager duchess trot she has been achieving lately.
Then the Sensible Voice made its pitch. Why not just write it privately, said the Sensible Voice. You don’t always have to boast. You don’t have to prove a point. Write it down for yourself, so you can look back and smile at the progress. Nobody else need know. It is what it is, between you and this strong, ravishing, sentient creature, in your hidden field. It does not have to be on display.
The hubris demons, very flappy and disconcerted, did not like this at all. They wanted everyone to know how high we were flying. They wanted to describe the close glimpse of the sun. Are you mad? they shrieked at the Sensible Voice. Everyone must know; the thing must be marked.
And then I went in and heard Mr Know It All and wanted to punch his silly nose.
All writing has an element of Look at Me in it. All prose is a bit of a tap dance. I suspect that I need that drive to show myself and prove myself and stretch myself, otherwise I would never write a book at all. But perhaps that little moment was sent along to remind me that I don’t need to do the dance all the time. Sometimes, I can just write the thing for my own private record, and not beg the crowd for its approval. I can know something, or a little, or a part, or even nothing at all, and that is quite perfectly fine. I do not need to Know It All, and, most especially, I do not need to attempt to prove this on the wide prairies of the internet. Sometimes, it really can just be me and a sweet horse, in that hidden field. Literally, and figuratively.
The sweetness in the hidden field:
My two sweethearts, browsing in the set-aside. I love it when they are both grazing together:
The duchess is at last losing her winter woolliness, so that I can see her again. She’s come through the winds and the weather wonderfully well. I’m very lucky because she is what my old dad would call a good doer. She is always well in herself and eats up like clockwork, and I never take that for granted: