Monday 27 June 2011

Thin lines

The other day, someone accused me of vanity. I was astounded. Old ladies who have long worked with and struggled to establish reality, whatever that is, are hardly likely to be vain. One might be 'D'-shaped, where one had had a good figure, straggly, where one had had nice hair and stiff where one had tripped the light fantastic. These things, amongst others too raw to mention, go a long way to preclude vanity in a realist - or anyone, come to that. It got me reviewing the basis for this comment. It arose when I insisted on a last minute change of clothes having noticed a disagreeable stain on the jumper I was wearing. This threatened to delay the departure and therefore the arrival at a concert: time sensitive, you might say. Intense reflection, during which I did see that there could be a modicum of vanity in an otherwise totally realistic approach to life, brought me to a revelation. This was not a question of vanity. It was a question of confidence. In order to go out in to a harsh and challenging world, a girl disguised as an old lady, will need her confidence. I was not prepared to face the outside universe with a dirty jumper, not even covered, as it would have been, by a clean cardie. I would have known. My companion of the delayed set-off would have known, and I bet the Wizard of Cyberspace would have known. Now, he is the last person in the world I would allow in to my habitual thin-skinned habitat, so you can see how seriously I am taking the accusation and the rebuttal thereof. I am, therefore, desperate to point out the thin line between vanity and lack of confidence. Now, there's a thing. A young man of my acquaintance who doesn't live in London is obliged, on occasion, to accept hospitality from me. I put it like that because he and I are inclined to prowl round one another somewhat warily. We have rather different ways of being in the world and I think that makes each nervous of the other. An instance: when asked to switch off the hall lights, he has been known to press a panic button near the front door. The bad news is that, before you can say "that's not a light switch" the alarm is ringing to wake the dead, the house is surrounded by police, the neighbours are banging on windows and the alarm company is ringing incessantly on the phone. The good news is that, before you can say "that's not a light switch", the alarm is ringing, the house is surrounded by police etcetera, etcetera. The system works. Anyway, this young man takes one hour and seventeen minutes in the bathroom. Uncharitably, I have been guilty of putting this down to vanity. Now I understand that he needs every hair in place - I assume that's what he is doing - in order to face a complex and barely fathomable world. This confidence building method works and, as a result, he is able to achieve wonderfully well out in a world he must see as designed for everyone but him. (As it happens, he does try to change it - the world, that is.)
Having got myself thinking, (Oh dear, a voice from seven decades ago: "Get is not a true verb. Don't use it") I was faced with another example; acceptance and conciliation. When I feel I have been treated badly I have options. I can accept the situation with grace and understanding or I can just appear to do so in a way which is, frankly, conciliatory, simply to avoid hassle and/or putting myself in a less than appealing picture frame. An example: I had expected to be invited to the wedding of a friend's daughter. I was not. I was full of empathy, the numbers, the distance the 'you know what the young are like' and so on, and so on. This was, as it happens, uber-conciliatory. I hope it sounded like acceptance. It wasn't, but it does underline the damn thin line between the two.

It reminds me of a story I may well have told you before. Forgive me if I have. I don't suppose you are inclined to re-read all the below, either. It is attributed to Nathan Milstein. " You think I am a great violinist", he is alleged to have said. "I'm not. I just sound like one." Me, you think I'm a confident woman. I'm not. But I behave like one". Prynhawn da

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