Graham Watt – Discovering Guilt

My friend Graham Watt has once again allowed me to reprint some of his articles. Since I’m in a period of rest from blogging, Graham’s thoughts on guilt, as well as research, may be a welcome change for readers.

Discovering guilt

Copyright – Graham McTavish Watt

Used with permission

It’s never been easy for me to understand orders, perhaps because of an inherent disdain for procedure or of being unable to accept someone else’s truth.  When I was a child, I’d go to confession at St. Augustine’s in Notre Dame de Grace in Montreal, each week dutifully entering the little cabin and awaiting the priest’s sliding door to open, there my sins to confess. My problem was I had no sins I could think of to confess. These were simpler times, and maybe guilt, the grist for organized religion, just hadn’t set in yet. What could I say to the priest? Everything was fine. I had no idea what a sin looked like or felt like. I solved the problem by simply lying. I’d say I committed 3 sins on Wednesday, four sins on Friday, a big sin on Monday and so on, always adding the confession day lie as one of them. Had the patient but silent priest heard of my troubles in later years he might have been more entertained. But alas, I had left the church and the confessionals for more attractive pastures.

When I was twenty-one I had a disastrous breakup with Sheila, my girlfriend, who had expected an engagement ring for Christmas and instead received a beagle puppy, a curious choice even for someone making but $75. a week smashing defective toilets for Crane. A Christmas Eve with everyone crying; Sheila, her mother, two of her brothers, myself, and the little beagle while peeing on the rug, was my introduction to massive guilt.

I saw Sheila no more. Then one lunchtime ten months later, I did see her approaching me on Mansfield Street, beautiful as ever. As she came close she abruptly crossed the street to avoid me. I was crushed beyond repair. I stumbled into a steamship office and asked when the next ship left for England. There was one in two days and I booked passage. My dear brother, as usual, was sent to deter me from another family disaster, but I assuaged his interdiction with  a heavy series of double scotches applied in the Berkeley Hotel bar and he was soon shouting encouragement.

I was desperately in need of another country.

Then, for some reason on sailing day, as the ship’s band played, she slipped her lines, and a barman popped open a Tuborg ale for me, its creamy foam descending slowly, I was suddenly free of guilt. I have no explanation for the instant lifting of that great depression. It was way past beer, a miracle surely, but the goddam gangplank had been removed and so was I from Canada.

In England I looked for work. I had not entirely lost my dressing up fetish acquired in my ranching days, and I went about wearing a burberry overcoat and a trilby hat and carrying the obligatory furled umbrella. One day in spite of the clothes which I thought made me look properly English, a frail looking elderly woman emerged from the shadows near Oxford Street tube station and smashed me over the head with her umbrella, shouting: “fucking American”, and effectively ending the dress up part of my life.

A woman I met in London, who had married a Canadian fighter pilot during the war and who had a soft spot for Canadian lads, offered me a job in her essence company. She had extensive holdings in Grasse in the south of France and wanted me to become an expert in essences, a vast aesthetic change from my smashing toilets job in Montreal. But I declined and instead took a job with Research Services in Frith Street, a division of the London Press Exchange. The job was easy. They’d send me to Canterbury in Kent and its environs, to do market research for women’s magazines and it was doing this that I developed my life long suspicion of market research.

Inevitably, my guilt factor kicked in ferociously here too. The job began easily enough. I would visit certain subscribers in the Canterbury area and ask the prescribed questions, which could be answered with a yes or no. The whole procedure was boring although the people I met were fascinating. In one household, a couple were entertaining a German pilot who had been shot down in 1944, landing in their apple tree, and prodded with pitchforks. After the war the German pilot and his family and the British couple became friends and for 20 years holidayed together, hopefully sans pitchfork.

But the trudging from house to house soon palled and I retired to a local pub and began to fill in the little cards myself. I would try to be creative in my little tick offs, favouring one magazine over another, sometimes appearing very negative in the hopes the unfortunate people whose opinions I was impersonating would receive a free subscription. I had no sense that my numbers and the numbers I would have received from actual interviews were in any way different. I believe that I may have aberrated half of Kent this way. In a sense I was forming my own bias on the magazines and in doing so began a lifelong suspicion of quantitative research and methodologies, especially when put in the hands of the congenitally disinterested.

Much like the earlier hoarding of the Crane order requisitions, my guilt rose up tinged with fear and I fled to Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Tirol, where I lived for the winter supporting myself by teaching skiing or more precisely skiing around the Hahnenkamm Circus with people who had lots of money and were perhaps as lonely as I.

On my return I met Sheila at a party. I told her I’d spent a year in Europe because she snubbed me on the street. She replied;  “You poor idiot, you know I’m shortsighted, I never saw you on the street”. Of the entire catastrophic trip, the lasting lesson learned was in the market research phase where the poor idiot discovered the variability of factors which can determine what we will accept as truth. And how all research is sabotaged by human frailty.

3 Responses to “Graham Watt – Discovering Guilt”

  1. Sharie Argue

    I need to contact my cousin Graham McTavish Watt. Can you please give him my email address and have him contact me? Thank you.
    Love the article!


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