Pictures play a huge part in how we view the world. As much as we like to believe they aren’t, our opinions are always shaped by the way something or someone appears. A first impression based on how attractive a person is, or the slightly funny shape of their nose can have lasting effects, even if we’re not conscious of them.
Equally, the lack of an image can be just as important: books and radio can provide a surprising sense of relief, getting us away from physical images and forcing our imaginations to fill in the spaces with our own constructions. Whether you’ve spent years listening to Radio 4, or have recently discovered a writer on whose work you’ve got a literary crush of Brobdingnagian proportions, your brain constructs images in your mind, however vague, of what the people or the person in question might look like.
Despite having given no dedicated thought to the matter of how these people might look, I’ve come to the following conclusions: Jennifer Aldridge of The Archers is almost an exact replica of an ex’s mother, gorgeously mature, à la Helen Mirren, but taller and with slightly longer hair; the newsreader, Charlotte Green, whose voice is TO DIE FOR, has the sultry good looks of a thirty-something Amazon temptress, all redheaded curls and Jessica Rabbit pout; and Simon Rich, of whose warm-hearted, witty and wonderful writing my intense envy knows no bounds, is a classic silver fox – in his 50s, with the deportment of Don Draper and the looks of George Clooney – but thinner, with glasses, and a hint at writerly and terrible posture.
But the intersection between imagination and reality can be a terribly cruel and brutal place, dispelling forever a cosy imaginary world with the punishing clarity that you have been existing in an illusion – usually one far more attractive than the reality.
I can just about accept that the actors in The Archers aren’t precisely how I’ve pictured them: they are radio actors, and have been hired for their ability to act through the medium in question. I can even let go my entirely incorrect mental picture of Charlotte Green.
But when I saw a picture of Simon Rich tweeted this week, a tiny portion of the world as I’ve known it crumbled away. Because the author of brilliant, brilliant writings – I love Girl; Sell Out; Unprotected – writings that are witty, and warm, and elegantly constructed, writings that seem to have taken a lifetime of experience to be able to put together, should be older and wiser, with a few more of the battle scars of life than, well, this chap:
Sometimes the images most appealing are those we can’t see.