Sunday, 24 July 2016


Still in Ulverston. The town is full of people in plum-coloured robes and tunics, many - women as well as men - with shaven heads. There’s a summer festival, I’m told, at the Buddhist Centre, at Conishead, just outside town. I’ve never understood why people with religious leanings should want to wear a uniform. If their particular belief system was so enriching, the rest of us would recognise it in their actions, speech and demeanour. Their good nature would be obvious; we wouldn’t need telling. The uniform may represent the outward expression of an inner spirituality, but I see it primarily as an attempt to distance themselves from other people: yet another way of differentiating 'us' from 'them'. Locals keep their distance too; the two worlds - spiritual and secular - don’t seem to collide.

It reminds me of my days at public school, where we lived in a small town without ever being part of it. The boys dressed like little merchant bankers, in pinstripe suits, which emphasised both our separateness and our ‘superior’ status. It was hardly surprising that there were regular ‘town & gown’ issues.. I wish I could have dressed like a normal teenager, but the formal uniform was mandatory. If I was seen in the town dressed in ‘civvies’, I was punished. The only uniform I’ve worn with pleasure, before or since, is my cricket flannels.  

I’m a fan of René Magritte, the surrealist painter, and not just for his enigmatic works of art. Despite his avant-garde views and radical politics, he looked and dressed like a petit-bourgeois, with suit, tie and bowler hat. He didn't want to stand out, preferring to blend in with his neighbours, who commuted each working day to their offices in town. Confounding expectations can be a subversive act: something the Buddhists might consider…

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