Most people have some apple polishing traits. It’s a combination of narcissism, contempt for those you perceive as being somehow “beneath” you, and an instinctive fawning on those “above”. The contempt can be very casual and faint or aggressive and palpable. i usually only have problems with aggressive polishers: or rather, they have problems with me and feel a need to put me in my place and push me around and let me know i’m a failure and of no account and should just fucking die at once, in a volcano.

i wouldn’t say apple polishers are bad people, they’ve just superficial and untrustworthy. One of my old university friends was an apple polisher of the first order, a coward and a schemer. His name was Bob the Coward. i liked him very much but learnt not to trust him in anything at all – not because he was a criminal or idiot, just lazy, disorganised, weak, unreliable. Some characteristic anecdotes:

1. Bob & i were walking through Durham and down “Windy Gap” (a narrow side alley) to the riverside. It was late in the evening and the streets were a little dangerous with drunks. We passed a group of Geordies, one of them a hot babe. i was talking to Bob, probably about dobermanns, and turned to look at the girl’s ass. i continued talking while staring as the Geordies walked away. When i turned back, Bob was gone.

He had begun running as soon as i turned away, and was now some distance down the riverside path. Assuming this was some kind of jape, i ran after him, shouting: “You’re going to die, motherfucker!” Bewilderingly, he continued to run. i am a fast runner, however, and as i neared, he looked over his shoulder with raw, animal terror. He saw it was just me and stopped, panting and cowering. i, laughing merrily, asked why he’d run off and he replied: “I thought you were going to get in a fight.”

elberry: Why?

Bob: Because of the way you were staring at those Geordies.

elberry: What?

Bob: You can’t stare at people like that. They might attack you.

elberry: Okay. So…you responded by immediately running away?

Bob: Yes.

2. We both did MAs. The university email listings didn’t update our information – we were still apparently studying BAs. Bob was indignant and heated. i didn’t understand why so he explained that it pissed him off to be bundled together with ordinary BAs when in fact he was doing something better. It didn’t matter that the only people who might need to search for his university email address would probably know he was doing a MA. No, he wanted special recognition.

3. Bob the Coward had a girlfriend. She was sweet but apparently quite clingy. Their relationship began when he caught her on the rebound and had his filthy polisher way with her. He just wanted sex but she was after a “relationship”. She kept asking him: “Bob, it isn’t just sex,  is it?” and so on. Finally, he decided he would rather just dump her and be alone with his apples. So he took her to the worst coffee house in Durham (Costa Coffee, a right proper shithole) to give her the bad news. i asked why he’d chosen this hideous place and he replied, in a matter of fact way, that he couldn’t very well tell her in his room because then she might cry and he couldn’t walk away because it was his room, so he would have to throw her out, which could be awkward. And he didn’t want to take her to Cafe Nero (where he spent most of his time), because “if she caused a scene” he could never, never return. And for him that would be like death itself.

So he chose the worst place he could find.

He didn’t understand why i broke into convulsive, horrified laughter, pointing at him and wheezing:  “What a bastard!”

4. At university in the late 90s, Bob the Coward was an ardent Nu Labour adherent, and later stood for election for Nu Labour in some Tory safe seat (he lost by several thousand votes), to advance his career. 6 years later, after the media had turned against Blair, he had one of these on his notice board:

nu labour

It’s based on a margarine advert (“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!!!”). He is someone who bends with every wind and will always back the popular horse. He has an instinct for it, an ability to change loyalties and beliefs in a second. His parents work for the BBC.

Bob got a good job as soon as he graduated, while i was unemployed for 3 years then became, perforce, a minimum wage data entry animal. Work suited him; though, predictably, he complained about how a colleague on the same pay grade had a bigger desk, a better parking place etc. etc. He’s now rich and successful and plays 5-a-side football one evening a week.

He probably sounds awful but in fact he was a decent chap, as long as you didn’t expect too much from him (honesty, loyalty, bravery etc). Most of all, he was mortified by the possibility of social disgrace; and conversely desperate for social status. We lost touch a couple of years ago, and later i heard from the Viking that Bob is now married and fat. 15 years ago Bob the Coward plotted our futures out, saying he would be Prime Minister (or something similar) and i would win the Booker Prize. i was so bewildered i couldn’t think of anything to say; even then, prizes seemed vulgar and ridiculous, but for Bob talent has no value if it doesn’t attract official accolades. i think of Bob from time to time, because he was very good to me and helped me out when i was nearly homeless (at least 3 times that i can think of), and he never made a big thing out of it or expected me to do anything in return. At this point, five years after graduating, it was clear that i was not going to win any prizes for anything, except failure – for which prizes are generally not awarded.

i think, in some sense, i occupied a peculiar spot in his mind, as someone he liked but knew would never amount to anything, never win the Booker Prize or get a real job or so on, would always be poor and despised and eventually die in a gutter, urinated upon by the Dabbler editors. i had no apple polishing value for him. Apple polishers understand everything within the matrix of social recognition. Bob was an educated polisher so literary fame, Booker Prizes etc., were accepted as currency. Uneducated polishers only care about money and gangster notoriety.

Polishing is a facet of narcissism, “the human condition“. i know very few people devoid of narcissism. My MILF Juniper, the ballerina, and my ex-MILF were all, i believe, wholly un-narcissistic, one reason i’ve found them so fascinating. Juniper has a degree in Economics and Spanish and reads English books; my ex-MILF has a double first in Classics and English Lit, from when that meant something; the ballerina was a financial analyst and said she had to be careful not to read when she was busy, as she lost track of time and found it difficult to stop. This combination of intellect and simplicity is immensely interesting to me. Not all narcissists are polishers though i think almost all are so. i am myself a non-polishing narcissist. The repeated, hammer-like blows of brutal rejection have cured me of any polishing tendencies, but i am by no means free of narcissism. It manifests differently. For example, i am secretly pleased when students prefer me to other teachers; or i feel gratified when hot babes stare longingly at my groin (often moaning in lust); and so on.

Over time, my narcissism has receded to manageable levels. It began in 1998, when i learnt i was the top-scoring student in my year, with a big gap between me and No 2. From then, it has been largely to do with my brain, one reason i should be grateful that Southron scum have despised and dismissed me as a worthless Yorkshireman. i discovered a kind of “incubation” meditation technique in 2000 and from then on have tried to detach myself from my own vanity, as much as i can. Even learning of my other lives, just over 4 years ago, was useful – the sad fact is that i am a scrofulous, leering pygmy compared to any of my preceding lives. Rather than feeling pride, i feel a “fuck, i’ve turned into a retarded asshole between that life and this” kind of dismay.

Society runs on apple polishers, self-satisfied, sneering Southrons patting their bellies and chuckling and drinking Chardonnay and so on. But i think civilisation also requires non-polishers, people who are motivated by God or notions of honour, of doing the right thing. My father, insane though he was, was no polisher. He had commendable contempt for polishing and i can easily imagine, if he were 20 years younger he would just visit London and shout at these Southron scum: “Egh well, LISTEN, egh? You think Elberry is your COOLIE, egh? Listen, egh? You say Elberry is STUPID WORTHLESS PAKI FROM HUDDERSFIELD, NO MONEY, NO JOB, and you say, egh [here he would adopt a horrible mincing ponce voice] ‘Egh well I am SO BLESSED CLEVER and I AM MANAGER and egh I CAN DO WHAT I WANT and egh I AM EDITOR I CAN DELETE YOUR WORK AND DO WHAT I WANT, egh?’

At this point, the victim would stare at him in horror, having no idea what is happening. My father would continue, undeterred:

“Well, LISTEN! YOU HAVE ANOTHER THING COMING, BOSS! EGH? You think you can damn well say this thing and that thing and the other thing but YOU WILL DIE, egh? You will HAVE BAD THING HAPPEN to you! Egh? Then you will BE SORRY.”

And so on. He cursed everyone who crossed him with the result that one person committed suicide, another went bankrupt, another was glassed and beaten almost to death in a pub. And these are just the ones he heard about. i think his powers, in this respect, came from a rawness, a lack of polishing. i wouldn’t necessarily want my enemies to die or be beaten almost to death or hang themselves; however, i am interested in these powers.

Aside from being a black magician and something of a monster, my father was an excellent doctor. He ignored all the Government bureaucracy, which would probably not be possible now. He earned a lot of money, and wasted it all, and in general money was of no value for him. He told me once, the only thing he cared about was power – he was thinking of the power of being a doctor and using his knowledge & training. i likewise only really care about power, but i am thinking of magical power. This power is magical. The first requirement is, to leave vanity and the ordinary self. Only then is true power possible.

i’m not interested in being nice. i am not a nice person and nor is it a good idea to push me around; for then you will learn that power is real; and you will learn pain. But nor am i as vindictive as my father. The desire for vengeance is another temptation, to be left behind. i imagine a final state, beyond polishers and beyond narcissism, in which the magician is finally untouchable. It is hard to imagine, as i am actually in love with revenge and destruction; but i recognise this is because i am a narcissist and weak, and i try to move beyond black magic, and to enter that other world, of which i know little (but one could say i have intimations from art). The important thing is to move away from polishing of any kind, away from vanity, and towards another substance, a greater reality. It is not easy but then, what is?