Arty slip was a wheel gaffe

19th November 2010 at 00:00

It was a damp afternoon and the steady stream of traffic was making it difficult to turn onto the A9. Becoming frustrated, I began to think in cliches. If I "locked the auto-box in first" when a break in traffic occurred, I could "floor the throttle" and get going without fear of "upshifting at the wrong time".

Eventually, a gap appeared. I locked the auto-box in first, floored the throttle, got halfway across the road when the wheels began to spin and "ended up looking like a bit of an erse". Fortunately, no harm was done and I realised the best thing to do was to admit to myself that I'd made a bad call.

The same week, one of my friends posted the following quote from sculptor Henry Moore on a website: "The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do."

My first reaction was that this sounded good but was pretty meaningless. I reckoned it was a bit "pretentious" and "over-egged the importance of what an arty person did". I wondered if there was a parallel quote from Mrs Moore along the lines of: "That's all very well, Henry, but someone's got to put the bins out." Buoyed by my own wit and repartee, I put the comment online.

Replies trickled in, none of them suggesting that my friends were rolling about on the floor laughing. The majority were from people who actually knew something about Henry Moore. They knew that he wasn't being pretentious, nor was he suggesting that you tried something impossible when you should be helping with the tea. He was talking about aiming to be as good as possible in everything you did, something only achievable by setting the highest possible goals.

I ended up feeling rather sheepish and ill-read. Metaphorically wheel- spinning on the information superhighway, I must have looked like a bit of an erse.

While it is undoubtedly more dangerous to oneself and one's fellows to be impeding the traffic on the A9, the "Henry and the bins incident" probably bothered me more. Had I not spent almost two decades trying to demolish the stereotype of the scientist as the non-creative linear thinker? The nerd who could appreciate Blake's 7 but not Blake? The arrogant so-and-so who rated string theory but not a string quartet? (I have applied string theory to Curriculum for Excellence and reckon there are actually 11 capacities, but we can perceive only four).

How ironic that a bit of research would have told me I should hold off from such flippancy.

What have I learnt? To remember to feed the power in gradually on a wet road and not to separate the quotation from the person who said it. After all, if it was Simon Cowell whom I abused for claiming that the secret of life was to devote oneself to something impossible, I doubt that there would have been the same dissent in the ranks. But that doesn't make me look any less of an erse.

Gregor Steele really should watch BBC4 more often.

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