The other day as I scurried away through the door of my bank, the cashier’s laughter still ringing in my ears, I collided with a man passing me on his way into the building.
He was tall, dark and dressed from head to foot in a huge black billowing cloak, the cowl almost completely enclosing his head and the hem dragging along the pavement behind him. I froze rigid, this was it; the grim reaper was nigh and my time on this mortal coil had evidently elapsed.
With my uneventful life flashing before my eyes for all of a second or two I prepared myself for the appearance of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. ‘But wait a moment,’ I thought, steadying myself, ‘where’s the scythe?’ Instead there came, in fine clipped well-to-do Hampshire tones: ‘I’m terribly sorry mate, in a bit of a hurry.’ And with that, the apparition vanished into the dark interior of the bank leaving me blinking, slightly bewildered and yet thoughtful.
I started thinking about eccentricity – what, indeed it is and how one might present oneself to the wider World – well, as one; an eccentric. These days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the borderline between what is considered normal and what eccentric. How and at what point does someone become describable as a true eccentric? For our chap in the cloak I suppose there must have been a moment in this geezer’s life when he thought, ‘I know, I shall wear only this cloak from now on.’ With that decision he became an eccentric, and I applaud him.
I think it timely to explore the difference between what is eccentric and what is affectation for, they are most definitely not the same thing. Most people these days seldom come across as eccentric unless they do so intentionally and there be the paradox; that making a conscious effort of appearing eccentric renders the whole business as merely affectation. Walking down the high street with a dead rabbit stapled to your top hat, dressed in a frock coat and Bermuda shorts wearing sandals with exposed socks isn’t going to fool everyone. This is put succinctly by Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club, when he tells the outwardly aspiring yet under the surface, hopelessly mundane narrator that; “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.”
This bloke with the cloak reached, at some point in time, a decision not to be bothered by what any passer-by might say on the subject. His indifference to opinion is what classifies him as a bona fide eccentric and I for one take my hat off to him. I hope he continues to wear the cloak for as long as he sees fit. Winchester is many things and above all, tolerant of the more unconventional citizen. I’d like to see this bloke try and walk down the streets of Southampton or Portsmouth in that garb – cut that, no I wouldn’t – I don’t think he’d fare very well.
The next time I’m ruminating as to whether I can still get away with wearing my old Homburg I shall think of the dude in the cloak and just put the damn thing on and try to remember that; we are seldom as strange, or eccentric as we like to imagine we are.