QUESTION If there are three people in a room, how many people are in that room?
ANSWER At least 27.
Actual person A
Actual person B
Actual person C
Actual person A when with B and C
Actual person B when with A and C
Actual person C when with A and B
A as perceived by himself
B as perceived by himself
C as perceived by himself
A as perceived by B
A as perceived by C
B as perceived by A
B as perceived by C
C as perceived by A
C as perceived by B
A as he thinks he’s perceived by B
A as he thinks he’s perceived by C
B as he thinks he’s perceived by A
B as he thinks he’s perceived by C
C as he thinks he’s perceived by A
C as he thinks he’s perceived by B
A when with B as perceived by C
B when with A as perceived by C
A when with C as perceived by B
C when with A as perceived by B
B when with C as perceived by A
C when with B as perceived by A
So imagine the quinquillions of possible permutations when there are around fifty (drunk) people in an enclosed space, as in my local pub last Saturday night after the glorious 30-3 win over a Global Mercenaries XV.
I was going around irritating people (I call it “working the room”) when suddenly a tremendous noise exploded on the other side of the pub. It was that Cardiff speciality one sees all too rarely these days: the mass brawl.
Tables were upturned, chairs flew everywhere, angry voices roared and the sickening sound of fists scrunching into bone and soft tissue filled the air. Then my chum stripped off his top and hurled himself into the ruck. I’ve tried to break it to him many times that he’s a scrawny middle-aged midget not Jake LaMotta, but he just won’t accept my wise counsel. Next thing I know he’s been flung out of the melee and is flying horizontally across the pub in mid-air, to smack into the fruit machine head first and pass out. The fight continued, lulling briefly now and then when self-appointed peacemakers got between the main antagonists, before erupting over and over again. It was almost better than the rugby!
This was a situation calling for cool heads and stolid maturity – but not stand-up comedy. I grabbed the microphone and launched into a joke I’ve been honing for a while:
Mehefin and Marged were two Christian missionaries working in Botswana. One day, while Mehefin was cleaning the church, Marged went to a nearby village to help dig a well…
But before I knew it I was being chucked across the pub too. Perhaps it was for the best; my clever subversion of Cymruphobia, racism, sexism and imperialism would have been throwing pearls to swine.
The police duly arrived, mob-handed and arrest-happy. I preferred it when the Old Bill carried nothing more than a whistle, a truncheon and a helmet, and wouldn’t hesitate to clip you violently round the ear-hole for as little as riding a bike on the pavement. Now they’re equipped like Robocop, bulging with hi-tech gizmos, taser guns, incapacitant sprays, digital assistants and equal opps manuals, and have replaced rough’n’ready common-sense with humourless inflexibility. The blue meanies carted off a few for an overnighter in the cells at their luxurious new palace on Clarence Road (they do a decent breakfast too), while one or two were taken to A&E by paramedics – but honestly, talk about overkill!
The evening’s entertainment continued. Karaoke resumed. I asked a guy with a cut lip why the fight had started. “Someone touched my missus” (point of information: “my missus” roughly translates as “a woman whose mobile phone number I’ve got”). “Where?”, I responded – admittedly ill-judged, but did he really need to head-butt me? He completely missed and fell over anyway, because a) he was extremely pissed, b) he was very old and c) I’m like a rat up a drainpipe when I need to be. It was the last straw for our long-suffering landlady, whose license to purvey intoxicating liquor is under perpetual threat from Council jobsworths as it is. “Out!” she squawked. I knew she didn’t mean it: she never has before. “Wales’ old ID did lose law,” I said, befuddling her with a palindrome before scarpering to the pool table.
The problem is hyper-individualisation: the UK’s working class, having been systematically stripped of communities, workplaces, trade unions, political parties and entire collective purpose, thrash around for meaning and dignity amid the third-rate fantasies and second-hand dreams peddled by tv ads and tabloid culture. Nothing is understood in socio-political terms any more; everything is reduced to individual entitlement, image and possessions. In such circumstances, the atomised and unreflective become over-reliant on relationships and family to provide fulfilment – a burden such delicate and contingent human structures should never be asked to bear. When anaesthetised, the profound insecurities inevitable when you depend on others for validation are at hair-trigger setting and can easily surface through imagined slights, disrespects and territorial infringements. Factor in the multiple inter-personal spaces I tallied at the start of this really crappy blog (I’m getting back into a rhythm) and what’s surprising is people’s passivity and the dearth of mayhem. Especially as I didn’t allow for bipolarity in the calculation.