There is an American comedy film called ‘National Lampoon’s European Vacation’; in it an American family travel around Europe, spreading a trail of chaos and destruction wherever they go. In each city they visit they cause some grave misfortune to an English tourist played by Eric Idle, and each time the Englishman apologises, how careless of him to be in the way of their car when they ran him over, and so on.
There are moments when I think I understand Idle; apologizing after being trampled upon. Enduring an interview where twenty-four years of experience was dismissed, and thanking them afterwards, when I had driven two hours to a meeting where they were not in the slightest bit interested, I was Idle.
Pondering that morning, I wondered what sort of person I was. “Person” comes from the Latin “persona”, meaning no more than a mask. Which mask had gone with me? Should I have worn a different one?
Shakespeare understood the difficulty of discerning what is real, what is of the essence of someone. In As You Like It, he writes:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
A friend in the North once laughingly suggested that I had played well the part of an evangelical preacher at a gathering we had attended. The “person” had been very convincing.
I wonder which of the persons I play is nearest the real one. There are times when the North seems a different and alien world and other times when I miss the edge and the banter and the warmth of Belfast. ‘Persons’ in the North are perhaps closer to the real man or woman underneath than persons in places where a veneer of politeness covers a determination that they will have their own way
Turning to a favourite passage from Shakespeare, lines from The Tempest, suggest interviews and all other such important events really count for nothing:
“Our revels now are ended.
These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
As dreams are made on? Bad dreams, as well.