The Sixth Sense

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore, or even Tooting

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in ‘Blink’ that sometimes we make decisions just based on a hunch, on instinct and we can’t figure out why, we just have an intuitive sense of something being right or wrong. He goes on to propose that it’s our subconscious talking to us, picking up little clues that our conscious mind doesn’t notice and he starts off his book with the story of ‘The statue that didn’t look right’. The Paul Getty museum was offered a statue from the sixth century BC, it was an almost perfect specimen and the price was just short of $10,000,000. The museum got in experts from all over the world and even took a sample of marble from behind the knee and tested it under every sort of scope one could think of. It passed all tests and did indeed appear to be bona fide, they paid up and had a big four page spread in the New York Times about this new find.

However, when a member of the Trustee Board first looked at it she immediately thought it was a forgery, she couldn’t say exactly why but it just didn’t look right, and more and more experts felt the same way, one thought it looked ‘fresh’, not the first thought one should have upon looking upon a 2,500 yr old statue. The statue is now in the Getty catalogue as “Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery.”

These experts were following their hunches, their instincts in calling the Kouros a fake, and we all develop our own set of hunches, instincts or ‘spiddy-sense’ if you are a fan of Spiderman. In Northern Ireland one could instinctively tell if the person taking to you was Catholic or Protestant, if the area you were walking though was Catholic or Protestant area and even the commentators on the radio/tv what religious tradition that had been brought up in, in a country where being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be a matter of life or death literally then one develops these survival instincts and tailors ones conversation to one’s audience.

But it’s not only in Northern Ireland that one develops these instincts, Bill Bryson wrote in ‘Neither Here Nor There’ that when he was in Belgium that really the country was divided in two, the northern Dutch speaking Flanders and the southern French speaking Wallonia. The Flemmings can’t stand the Walloons and vise versa and one day he was being shown around the city by a guide who would glance sideways at a couple sitting sipping coffee in an outdoor café and hiss ‘Dutch!’ to Bill. Bill said how can he tell and the guide was amazed that Bill couldn’t tell they were northern but of course to Bill they just looked like everyone else in Belgium. The guide had obviously become sensitive to the little tell-tale signs that makes one group different from another and when Bill asked him to explain how he knew they were northern Dutch the guide couldn’t say, he just knew because ‘it was so obvious’!

I know how the guide feels, I spent a large part of yesterday and today looking at cars for sale  in Croydon, a satellite town south of London where I lived in for the first seven years of London life and my spidy-sense was on full alert. It’s not that hard to describe Croydon, when I lived there it was cheap, messy and quite rough but now it’s just a huge ginormous sprawling monster, like when I was there it was a troublesome teenager that one hoped would come good in the end but instead it’s metamorphosed in Jabba The Hutt.

Unlike the Belgium guide and Michael Gladwell, I know full well why my spider-sense was on full alert, there are certain characteristics that one judges an area with and whether it’s safe to walk the streets or if one’s going to be a target, you may use some of these without knowing it. If I see people sitting outside in a café sipping coffee and chatting away, generally that area is OK. I saw none of this in Croydon but I have a broad set of criteria before I damn a place, another thing I look out for is a bookshop, specifically a full bookshop, vandals and larger-louts tend not to frequent bookshops and I did indeed find one in Croydon but it was almost empty… strike two.  The other thing connected with this is did I see anyone reading a book on the bus/tram down to Croydon, apart from myself there was no-one else reading on the bus, not even a Kindle…not a good sign. However, the most telling sign and one most Londoners aren’t aware of is – are there people on bicycles. You can tell an area is OK simply by the presence of people going about their business on bikes and the abundance of cycle lanes. Even Tooting’s got well used cycle lanes but in Croydon I saw not one person on a bike, I saw two adults on scooters blasting through the Christmas shoppers but no one on bikes and that’s very telling. There are bike lanes leaving Tooting and heading in the general direction of Croydon but they peter out the closer one gets to Croydon, it’s like the council knows there is no point in painting them on the road, they will never get used. The dystopian Los Angeles so brilliantly created by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner already exists just south of London. I’m glad I managed to escape alive.

However, there’s one more bit to this story that I need to mention and it’s got to do with relationships. I do the same thing with relationships, I judge them on factors I can’t really explain, it’s nothing to do with looks, height, weight, age, personality or even distance, I can’t explain it but I know instinctively if a relationship is going to be long term or short term and it greatly colours how I treat that person, and I don’t know what it is, some folk say it’s ‘chemistry’ and maybe our bodies detect the pheromones given off by each other but I’m not so sure, I think it’s even subtler than that but I can’t explain it, all I know is that if my guts tell me it isn’t going to be the love of my life then I pull back because ..well..because it doesn’t feel right to go against your guts, does it.. and it’s a bit of a bugger because I’ve missed out on a lot of kissing because of it but when I look back at least I’ve got a slightly cleaner conscience and that’s kind’a important, at least for the London Leprechaun