August 2009 Archives

Suspension of disbelief

How compartmentalisation (very occasionally) fails

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I’m in London at the moment, as part of my regular “go to the office for three days per month to do the things that require face-to-face contact” gig. Normally at this time of night I’d be on a train back North messing about on the Internet and getting satisfactorily merry on free wine; because this is a summer month I’m sitting in my hotel messing about on the Internet and getting satisfactorily merry on room service wine. Plus ├ža change, and while the Internet thing would probably have confused my parents, I’m sure they’d agree on the basic principles.

Whenever I leave for London I tell Cleodhna I’ll miss her, and it’s true, but in many ways this is so unlike the rest of my life that it’s easy to get into a “OK, I’m in London, things are different here” vibe. When I’m back I’m grateful to extremes that I’m home with my wife, but for the most part I just carry on in London-mode. Tonight, though, I think for the first time ever, I just did the lifestyle equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. (NB: is addictive, like a sarcastic pop culture wikipedia; click at your own risk.)

I was playing The Sims 3, and my teenage Sim who, for reasons that weren’t quite clear, was hanging out in a gym, had a wish to become BFF with this other teenage Sim. Said Sim wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but when I clicked on my Sim’s mother, it turned out she was talking to the prodigal. So I switch over to their conversation to see what’s going on, and it turns out that, thanks to a few hacks I downloaded the other day, the teenage Sim my own teenage Sim wants to be BFF with is randomly, and blatantly, topless.

My instinctive reaction is to turn to my left and call out to Cleodhna, saying something along the lines of “You need to see this” - and then I realise that I’m staring at a hotel room.

And that hit me. I think for a brief moment I was genuinely befuddled.

I wonder if this sort of catastrophical failure mode is something that liars and cheaters strive at all costs to avoid? I remember when John Major did a conference speech about Back to Basics, which I think he meant to be about going back to core Conservative principles but the tabloids meant being honest and pure and not in any way corrupt or dodgy, and so on the Monday of the conference they produced headlines about how Steven Norris had a mistress. On Tuesday it turned out he had a second. By Friday, they’d found five. And none of them knew about each other.

(From memory, a fellow MP said something along the lines of “To have one mistress is a peccadillo; to have five is a matter of the most profound admiration”.)

It turns out that he basically rota’d his time with each of them; they each had a consistent day, and he rented five separate flats to be lovenests for each of them, all of which were laid out and furnished identically so he’d never look in the wrong places for anything, or behave as if he wasn’t perfectly at home.

Similarly, Michael Crick’s biography of Jeffrey Archer was memorably described by The Guardian as “the stuff you just couln’t make up and the stuff Jeffrey Archer did just make up”. (But at least Jeffrey Archer eventually went to prison - as did Jonathan Aitken. How good it was to be a Labour party sympathiser in the mid-1990s.)

Thinking about it, the most reassuring thing about this event is how alien it felt. I’d hate to be one of these people who divide their lives into carefully-planned lies and deceptions.

As it is, I fly back to France tomorrow, and all will be well.