I hate to boast, but last week — prepare yourself for this — I changed the bulb in the dining room, and it will thrill you to know we shall no longer be having our meals in the dark. Actually, we never did eat in the dark, having escaped that fate by having our meals in the study with the TV blaring. The wife had laid down the law, however. “I am sick of doing everything around the house while you stare out of the window,” she said, “Change the bulb or we eat in the dark.”
Those who know me well know me as a man of many talents. Unfortunately being a handyman isn’t one of them. You want someone to write a column on the joys and sorrows of reading Jane Austen, I am your man. Perhaps you are driving by an open field and see a game of cricket. Is that boy with the funny haircut bowling leg spin or off spin, you wonder. Wonder no more, you have come to the right person (if you come to me, that is).
But in the matter of fixing fuses, shouting at the delivery boy, changing bulbs, making tea or lighting a gas stove I am a dead loss. I fret. I worry. I look around for my wife. I am as useless as someone looking for an analogy and not finding it.
My speciality — at least the way my wife tells it — is to sit still and stare out the window. I read somewhere that the most difficult part of writing is to convince your wife that when you sit still staring out the window you are actually working. It’s not just writers. I think philosophers, assassins, artists, cartoonists and mathematicians are all working when they stare out the window. The act has not been given the credit it deserves for the progress of mankind as a whole.
I mean, did Einstein arrive at his formula for the equivalence of mass and energy by fixing light bulbs or rushing about looking busy?
No, he stared out of the window till the idea gripped him. Pythagoras spent a lot of time drawing right-angled triangles on the ground. He also spent an equal amount of time staring out the window, wondering how long he had to wait before Bertrand Russell published his paradoxes so he could solve them before anybody else.
For every 15 minutes I stare out of the window, I write 45 words. This column is 450 words long, so I have spent two and a half hours staring. If you think that’s excessive, consider the novelist Flaubert. A whole day’s work yielded eight words.
That’s a lot of staring.
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