I have been busy conducting interviews for a Radio Four mini-series, 'God on my Mind'. One of the most interetsing , was with Bruce Hood of the Department of Experimental Psychology at Bristol University. He argues in his book ‘Supersense’ that the process of child development leaves us predisposed to supernatural beliefs. One aspect of this is how we feel emotion about inanimate objects, not because of their inherent qualities but their associations. So, for example, very few of us are willing to touch a cardigan when we are told it was once worn by Fred West, as if somehow evil has rubbed off on the garment and it is contagious.
I was reminded of my own irrational feelings towards everyday objects when I went to get a temporary pass for the BBC (soon to be followed by the real thing). It filled me with a quite undue sense of pride and achievement.
It's not the first time this has happened. Over several years I took great pleasure in keeping my Labour Party conference passes as I passed through various stages of promotion from research assistant to head of rebuttal to head of policy and ultimately assistant general secretary. And when I left Number Ten I went to quite some lengths to hold on to my Downing Street and Parliamentary passes, not because I wanted to gain illicit entry, but because each pass carried a great symbolic weight.
Indeed, so voluminous has my collection now become that I suspect if I ever go completely dotty I will be found running naked down the South Lambeth Road wearing nothing but hundreds of brightly coloured passes and lanyards.
Getting the BBC pass involved another memorable moment. The young man in the ID office was having some difficulty printing my photograph when an internal BBC messenger came to his desk to drop off a parcel. When the messenger held out his clipboard for a signature the ID guy said ‘sorry I’m a bit busy can I sign for it later’. The messenger was walking away when he turned; ‘sorry, mate, I think I need it now’. At which point ID guy leant over and signed, an act that must have taken all of two seconds.
I always think when I say it that it’s true, but I guess the statement ’I am too busy’ is an assertion of status, a way of showing that your job is more important that the person seeking your time. Maybe ID card guy was once assistant ID card guy, someone who had no choice but to sign when asked. But now he has moved up in the world and everyone needs to know it.
‘How funny; to be so obsessed with status, to behave in such an evidently silly way’ I said to myself slightly adjusting my jacket collar to make sure any passer-by caught sight of my bright blue BBC lanyard.
As we begin to imagine the post-pandemic world, we need to challenge our use of old metaphors to allow for new narratives and better futures to emerge.
With the post-Christmas resolutions looming, when we try to address the worst of our seasonal over-indulgences, the question remains: how can we give up bad habits for good?