It was a sign on the street that got me thinking. It was not a regular street sign; not something permanent telling me the distance to the High Street or warning me that I was approaching a cycle lane; it was just a few disparate letters chalked on the pavement. Reading around in a circle they spelled G. A. R. P.
Garp. The word immediately got me thinking of the 1978 novel, written by John Irving: The World According to Garp. It was made into a film four years later, starring Robin Williams. I have never read the novel––never read anything by John Irving, in fact; his concerns tend not to be my concerns––but, nevertheless, it was known to me. Garp.
Part of the reason for this might have been that one of my friends had once told me that I reminded him of the main character in the book, T. S. Garp. I was intrigued. Not so intrigued that I went and actually read the book, but still intrigued.
The character of Garp is a sex-obsessed wrestling enthusiast. It didn’t sound much like me. He is also a struggling novelist. I hoped that that was the bit that my friend thought resembled me.
Chalk letters on the pavement: they were unlikely to have been written by a committed John Irving enthusiast; book recommendations have got more sophisticated than that in the age of the Internet.
Of course, they were simply shorthand notes for workmen preparing to dig up the road. One letter indicating the direction of gas pipes beneath the surface; another to show that ground-penetrating radar has been used; another to represent passive electromagnetics. But it got me thinking about how differently people must view their surroundings. Chalk letters for me meant a quiet sit down to read a work of fiction; chalk letters for someone else meant several hours’ heavy work with a jackhammer.
One man’s Garp is another man’s ground-penetrating radar.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow likes to look at the world from a different perspective.