Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

LAST week I bought a painting in a gallery. Another visitor to the gallery who watched me buy it said that I had chosen well. It was a fine work, he said, and would fill any room with its presence.

When I had arranged for the delivery of the painting, I left the gallery and found the man walking beside me.

'I had a good collection once,' he said.

`What happened to it?' I asked.

`Stolen,' he said. `Burglary.'

`Insured?' I asked.

`No,' he said. `Too expensive. Some of them were worth tens of thousands.'

'I don't suppose the police got any of them back?'

`No,' he said. `But they thought they probably ended up in a car boot sale in Aberystwyth.'

I began to regret my over-hasty purchase. I had little desire to add to the artistic treasures of the north Wales coast. I wished I'd bought shares instead.

I went to a second-hand bookshop to console myself. I love browsing. Almost every book has something to commend it. For example, I picked up a book by a man called Norman O. Brown, who was popular in the 1960s and wrote what he called 'psychohistory'. His reputation has evaporated since then and he is now unread. The first chapter in the book was entitled `The Disease Called Man'. I read no further: I thought that everything thereafter would be an anticlimax after so pithy a precis of man's character, history and prospects.

In the evening, I was on duty for the prison. New prisoners fill in forms regarding their health.. One of the questions is: `Do any of your relatives suffer from a mental illness?' One of the prisoners had written in reply: `Amt a skitso. …

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