October 06, 2004


Somewhere in India, I probably have a doppleganger. I remember, when young, watching a news report from that country and seeing a boy of my age in a small crowd of people. He was a bit taller than me, and his skin was darker, but other than that he was identical in appearance - the face, its shape, its features, his expression. That was why I noticed him. That was why I was startled. Unsettled, perhaps, by the train of thought that leads from that, that all over the world there are people who basically look like you, with whom you have a shared identity than goes above and beyond - or rather, goes below, goes deeper - than simply that of our common humanity. Versions of me, all ovor the world, and I a version of them. From that, of course, you ask yourself what it would be like to be them, what you would be if you had grown up in a completely different environment, whether and to what extent you would still be you.

More unsettling, to be reminded of yourself unwillingly. On seeing my father for the first time in twenty years, I found myself thinking, immediately, disturbingly:

- that is me looking back at me, me in twenty years
- I don't want to be like that. I don't want to be like him.

It must be a common enough experience, and a common enough reaction. So, too, must be coming across people who remind you of yourself, not because their face is akin to yours but because you cannot avoid the fact that there is something that is true about them that is, uncomfortably, as true of you. Something about their character which is destructive, or negative or otherwise unattractive. (I might spend much of this month writing about BS Johnson, who reminded me of myself from practically the first page of Coe's biography and continued to do so right down to his disturbing end.) What we hate most in other people is the mirror they hold up to us: what we secretly hate, or fear, about ourselves.

Or more tangential. I was in the Bay Hotel in Port Erin on Sunday night, and there was another man at a different table, who, the more I thought about him, reminded me of me. He was alone, as I was, eating there to get away from the interminable closing ceremony at the chess tournament, as I was, dressed in jeans and t-shirt, as I was. He had something to read, as I did, whether for want of other company or to spin out the time. He was roughly the same age as me, but had that same peculiar aspect, one of looking slightly younger than one's age, less worn than the average, and yet having the air, the eyes, of somebody who felt much older than their years. He even had long hair. I do not have long hair any more, but I did, for years, and the change was was less a choice of style than an attempt to throw off an old identity. It is still me, even if it is a me which I no longer want.

Which is the point. It was not too hard to imagine somebody giving a description of this other man, and someone else, someone who knew me, identifying them as me. What am I like? I am like this, and this, and this. And if you take those characteristics and locate them in someone else, then that is somebody who I am like, however unwelcome the comparison may be. This other person, they are not much unlike you. They could be taken for you. What they are, is what you might have been.

On this occasion the comparison was most unwelcome. I know what the gentleman concerned does for a living. He is a journalist with the Sun.


Post a Comment

<< Home