He is quite shockingly confident, and I instantly dislike him as a result. A quiet confidence I can warm to, but an unquiet one… well, it’s always been this way. But then I have to remind myself that I started off life as a boy bursting with something of the same sense of entitlement, the same underscored security.
We’re at a hotel complex. Not just a hotel, but a hotel complex. The complex part takes from it any charm it might once have had in the days before it became a complex. You may be asking, just how complex? Well, complex enough to have its own Starbucks even though it is buried in the countryside miles from anywhere. It’s dark, so I can’t see the full range of its complexity, but I suspect that as well as the conference space and eighteen hole golf course, there may be boutique shops including one selling cut glass, while lying in wait for uncritical visitors to the spa side of things, there is almost certainly a reflexologist.
The Champagne Bar is a collision of styles, an impressively unholy mess. It’s as if they’ve asked four interior designers to go to work, and decided to use all four schemes. Strip away any three and the result might just possibly have been tasteful. Instead chandeliers rescued from Captain Nemo’s Nautilus compete with heads of Hindu gods, and a garish painting of Margaret Thatcher goes head to head with the biggest glitter ball under which it has ever been my nervous pleasure to stand.
It’s a celebration, and the shockingly confident young man has taken it upon himself to perform a handful of songs for the woman who stands a fair chance of one day becoming his mother-in-law. He sings ‘Crazy little thing called love’ and a number by one of the more successful talent show graduates. It transpires that he is the scion of this empire, heir to the complex, just as I was heir to a place which might in time have become such a complex, quite possibly under my guidance and in the image of my own crass, undeveloped taste. What a very different life it would have been. But however it turned out, I can’t quite see myself having performed Queen numbers to my future mother-in-law along the way.
In among the usual conversations about aliens, dead animals and football, a friend tells me about The talent code. The book’s author says that ‘“Natural talent” is code for “started earlier and practiced harder”’, and that whatever the discipline, anyone can build fast, fluent skill circuits – axons in the brain sheathed in an insulating substance called myelin – through constant repetition of key movements. I get it, I said – like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, only with physiological or neuroscientific icing on top. While my friend and I are sure that our confident young man is even now seeking his moment in the talent show spotlight, neither of us needs to be Simon Cowell to determine that he hasn’t yet sung for 10,000 hours or sufficiently built up his myelin sheath. (Note to self: who are you to talk? You need to post more regularly – your writing axons must be in serious danger of losing what little myelin they had around them in the first place.)
Late that night, as I lie awake unable to sleep, my retinas still dazzled as they are by afterimages of light from the glitter ball, I think about my own levels of confidence, and such as it was, the talent I had. Aged twelve my knees went from too much repetition of the key movements in my chosen discipline, coincidentally just as my confidence was being destroyed by a terrible but common family experience. Perhaps underneath the early cocksure belief, I always had that degree of sensitivity, of brittleness which meant that whenever bad experience finally came along, it was going to turn me inwards, especially with the recourse to physical release also gone. Inside I found what seemed to be my true self, and there I stayed, in that state of dreamy inwardness. Life since has often felt like an ongoing battle to emerge from my shell and regain or retain confidence, with ever-varying degrees of success. Over the years I have trained myself to be able to snap out of my introversion as and when I need to. As for confidence, I rise above the moments of its lack and pass through them so much more easily than I did. I suppose I have become comfortable in my head, if never quite in my skin. Or is it the other way round?