I’m sitting here typing this in the library of the Oxford Union. It’s a beautiful room lined with ancient books.
I was never a member of the Union when I was a student. Then I viewed it as the refuge of political hacks and an unnecessary expense. Now it provides me with quiet workspaces, cheap lunches, free wi-fi and comfy chairs to sit on in the middle of Oxford. I never go to the debates, they are in the evenings and we’ve got kids to look after. But I use it as a quiet place to work during the day. I’m sure everyone thinks I’m some sort of academic as I tap away on my computer and they have no idea that I am a magician/ juggler/ fire eater, probably updating the ZANE website or doing my accounts.As has been the case for much of my life, I feel like I’m getting away with it. I’m in the Union, but I don’t feel like I’m part of it. I feel like I’m running a business (I’m a company director, don’t you know!) but someone will find out that I don’t really know how to do it properly at some point. When I was a student at Oxford I constantly felt like I had got in because someone made an admin error somewhere. I’m a Christian but I don’t feel like I fit in with most of the church.
Anyway, The Oxford Union gives me an opportunity to people watch. And the people here are hilarious. A number of very eccentric crusty old dons talking to slightly earnest students on one table. Then a hooray hack will swan in and do a hack hook-up with another to exchange smarmy sub-text laden pleasantries with each other. Many of the future Camerons, Blairs and Thatchers are here – it’s quite fun trying to guess which will make it big in the future. They are all desperately trying to fit in, to be in this world and of it.
But is that what we are supposed to do? Part of me thinks that we should always be a bit uneasy about fitting in. Look at life sideways. Do things differently. Be unconventional, creative. Being normal seems wrong, makes me worried and uneasy.
My friend Ian Mobsby used to talk about “The ministry of not fitting in.”
Is that what is meant by “Being in the world, but not of it?”