I sat in a bar and sipped my glass of claret. At the next table there were a young man and a woman of, I would guess, about 75. She was very elegant. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I was pretty sure I had the measure of her. She had seen and heard everything in her long life, but she stuck, stubbornly, to the values of her youth.
And then, for some reason, I suddenly found myself thinking about a young novelist called Martin Amis. You may not have heard of him, but he is all the rage in literary circles. His father, Kinglsey, was a brilliant novelist. Martin is also very successful, though not nearly as talented.
Why did that elegant woman make me think of Martin Amis?
I have worked it out. I have read a couple of young Amis’s books. I know that he uses the words f–k and c–t several times on every page. He does that in order to demonstrate how grown up he is. But he also hopes to shock. He would look at that elegant 75 year old woman and think how appalled she would be that anyone could use the sort of offensive language he uses. And he would think he had hit the jackpot. “I,” he would say to himself, “am a great novelist because I have shocked that awful waste of time, that horribly old woman”.
But what Amis junior doesn’t realise is that the old woman he so despises is not shocked at all. She (I am trying to read her mind now but I think I’ve got it right) just thinks he is a very silly little boy who is using bad words to try to shock her. She has heard them all before, and she is not impressed by his use of them. The fact that she can lead her life without uttering obscenities every moment of it does not mean she is shocked when they are used by others.
How strange that sitting in a bar at a table near an elderly woman should have led me to think in this way.