Life With a little imagination, Red Symons puts the ‘pub test’ to the test
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With a little imagination, Red Symons puts the ‘pub test’ to the test

What narratives are we spinning based on limited observations? Photo: Getty/TND
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You are led from your cell by a guard who takes you up the stairs to a place where there are barred windows but a little more natural light.

You are held, for a time, outside the courtroom until your name is called.

Your handcuffs are removed and you apprehensively enter the courtroom, where you are escorted to the dock.

Nothing ever prepares you for this scenario, but this one is slightly skewed from what you expected.

The jury watches you, taking in your composure and your tics, each with a half-drunk beer in a glass on the counter before them, some with a smouldering cigarette propped in the ashtrays provided

Your barrister and his adversary were both admitted to “the bar” decades ago and will pursue the case with acumen and vigour. Each barrister has a jug of beer on his desk to replenish the jurors’ drinks should they need to.

Welcome to the “pub test”. Are you feeling reassured?

A bloke in a pub once explained the philosophy of phenomenology to me. If you see a tree in the middle distance you will immediately presume what it looks like from the other side – pretty much the same.

The phenomenologist asks, “Why presume that?”

We run these presumptions every waking moment. If you don’t, you go mad with uncertainty. If you find an unexplainable situation, you construct a narrative to explain it.

I shall miss the lockdown, because in my meandering wanderings, I see things that have passed unnoticed for decades, distracted by people and movement.

Exhibit A is possibly graffiti. There is so much artful graffiti sprayed nowadays that it exhausts attention.

Exhibit A. Photo: Red Symons

I construe that what was once a house called “La Freda” after the beloved wife or daughter of the builder, has been chiselled into “La Fred”. Hilarious. Perhaps the plaster just fell off. But I don’t think so.

Exhibit B is possibly a den of spies.

Exhibit B. Photo: Red Symons

The many bristling antennae on the roof are communicating silently with someone in the outside world. Or are they just listening?

If they were up to no good, they would be well advised to make the antennae less obvious.

I conclude that it’s a corpulent and sedentary man in late middle age with a collection of friends that he has never met.

Exhibit C is perhaps toxic fumes or perhaps a cleansing spray.

Exhibit C. Photo: Red Symons

The site of the old gasometer, a field of toxins leached into the soil, is being cleansed. Along the fence is a row of plumes blowing away the unpleasantness. Is it a mist of water dampening the dust and discouraging escape or is it the smoke of an underground peat fire?

You can decide or write your own narrative.

Exhibit D means nothing to anyone but me.

Exhibit D. Photo: Red Symons

I rehearsed in this building 50 years ago and I have never noticed its date. Exactly a century after it was built, it had become the crucible of a local band with an unusual degree of success.

It’s just a coincidence.

The Final exhibit was pointed out to me by a stranger who was transfixed, looking upwards from the street.

Here was a fireplace suspended above the street, below the chimney that it shared with its neighbour.

Exhibit E. Photo: Red Symons

My simple explanation was that there had once been a building and it has been pulled down.

He corrected me, pointing out that the fireplace had never been used, that the building had been planned but never built and that the dovetailed bluestone crenellations, the protruding jigsaw bits, had been prepared but never utilized.

Each of us had prepared an explanatory narrative based on limited observation. I’m going with his story.

Are you happy with your jury of men-in-the-pub?

Surely common sense is just the point of view of you and those who agree with you?