Thick as a brick

There’s a new book out, currently causing much excitement amongst journalists over here, entitled ‘Are Men Necessary?’ It observes how men tend to trade down in their choice of partner, preferring a bimbo to a brain, while women look to improve themselves through marriage. Successful intelligent men, it seems, don’t match up with successful women. Quite where this leaves me I’m not sure, because by any definition my wife is a successful woman. The inference then is that I must be either a failure or thick as a brick.

I know I’m not a failure because I was recently voted Player of the Year at Greenwich Arsenal over 40’s. As I said in my acceptance speech (possibly the proudest moment in my life), my Great Grandfather was World Racquets Champion, my son a National Judo Champion, but this surely is the pinnacle of our family’s sporting achievement.

So, if both Ros and myself are successful, it follows that I must be stupid. For someone who passed his French O’ level at the third time attempt and who carved an intellectual swathe through Oxford Polytechnic, I find this hard to stomach. What I don’t get (probably because of my stunted cerebral capability) is why is that clever men shy away from successful women. What’s so smart about that, I ask myself? Pontificating, as I am, on philosophical matters, while indulging myself in the luxuries of a lifestyle underwritten by my wife’s earning power, I think of all my more gifted friends driving themselves into the ground in their relentless pursuit of success. Had I married below myself I would really have scraped the barrel. I might, God forbid, have been obliged to get a proper job with a regular reliable income.

I’m an intellectual pygmy, happily at home here in Lilliput. When it comes to eggheads, America is positively egalitarian. A country with Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse as its cultural icons, with silicone in its breast and silicon in its valley, and with George Bush at its helm clearly has little pretension at being the brightest spark in class. Powerful it may be, profound it isn’t.

Perhaps it’s a New World thing. The older the country, the more it trades on wisdom. I remember being made to feel very inadequate in India for coming from a country with no great philosophers and for failing to hold my own in a debate on weighty matters. My musings on the greater meaning of the ‘four four two’ formation was held to be an inadequate contribution.

I was taken aback, on a return visit to the Motherland earlier this year, to be asked so many probing questions by so many people. The subtext seemed clearer than ever before: consciously or unconsciously, I was being assessed and categorised by articulacy, mental aptitude and general breeding. I always fear my unimpressive academic record reveals itself in the edges of my intonation and that I’m marked down as a sub-optimal being. In the States you tend not to get interrogated in quite the same way. Americans don’t really do questions, which is probably why they volunteer so much information. If they didn’t, nothing would ever get said (conversely, England would be a nation of Trappists if we didn’t ask questions). Maybe, as an outsider I’m simply not privy to the local mores of sizing up, but I feel much less judged here in the Land of the Free.

America doesn’t seem to have quite the same culture of inquiry as Britain. You see it in an education system that places greater emphasis on conformity than wild flights of intellectual fancy. Write your name in the right place, tick the right box and structure your essays in accordance with the rules and you’ll be okay. Jay’s recent battery of High School exams for Chicago involved hours and hours of four point multiple-choice questions and nothing more. The eccentric, dishevelled, socially inept and totally disorganised creative genius so beloved by the British wouldn’t stand a chance over here.

The American psyche is more interested in performance and achievement than in brilliant minds. Good for you if you’re bright, but no worries if you’re not. Being a tuppence short of a shilling would be looked down on here, but only on grounds of the financial shortfall. Whereas to be a fry short of a Happy Meal is to suffer significant social stigma back in Blighty

The irony is that eight of the top ten universities in the world are in America. (The other two are English, with Oxford scraping in at number ten). How is it that a country that doesn’t seem to particularly care about academics can wop the ass of us Old World intellectual snobs so conclusively? How can a country that reduces my son’s education to five subjects, from the thirteen he was previously studying, win at something it’s not supposed to be good at? How can FIFA rank the United States as sixth in the world soccer ranking, two places ahead of us, when we invented the bloody game?

The answer, I suspect, lies in the genetic make-up of Americans that predisposes them to win.

In an e-mail to my erstwhile team mates at Greenwich Arsenal, thanking them for my Player of the Year award, I did the old British “I’m not worthy” bit and was sharply pulled up and told to cut the humility. Winners aren’t supposed to be meek and modest in the U.S. of A. It’s just not cricket, as they say.

When you think about it, the sense of irony, humility, intellectual inadequacy and self-deprecation that make up our own glorious nation are all self-loathing characteristics. There’s something to be said for the lightness of being in the New World.

My American experience is teaching me not to worry about being a few cans short of a six-pack. And anyway I like to think of myself as a backroom achiever, the notion of being the power behind the throne. I’ve always admired Warwick the Kingmaker as a better role model than the guys he sponsored, Edward and Henry. (Odd then that I should have become Simon the Kingtaker by marrying Miss King and giving her a different name). I like to think that Ros wouldn’t be where she was today without me pulling the strings, broking power and taking the children to school behind the scenes. Similarly, one of the guys I played tennis with over the last year found himself going on to greater glory by winning his local Darien tennis club tournament. He also became his local Golf Club champion, but I suspect I would be overstretching my influence to claim the credit for that.

So am I, as a man, necessary? The tea leaves aren’t particularly encouraging. Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick was killed in his forty-third year by the first king he had made. I guess he’d outlived his usefulness. I may have made it to my forty-fourth year, but with my reign as a Connecticut housewife drawing to a close and soon to be usurped in my Chicago castle by a twenty-two year old Ecuadorian au pair, even I, with my little brain, can see the writing on the wall.

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