June 24th, 2011

Better living through chemistry

you cannot think what figs my teeth have met in

These are the responses to lovely questions from lovely curiousbadger in that meme that's going round again. Comment if you want some. Also comment if you would like to ask a question. I have also turned on anonycommenting, so you can ask things discreetly if you like.

1. You have to order your last meal as a condemned woman. What is it?

I last wrote about the condemned woman's hearty meal in this post, and re-reading it, I stand by what I said there. Except, in truth, I doubt I'd have much appetite or that the prisonb authorities would allow me access to a kitchen or a lovely young man. I suspect what i would want is a platter of perfectly fresh, ripe fruits, probably from Fortnums. Ideally it would involve white cherries, black figs, Alphonso mangoes and lovely mangosteens from Sri Lanka.

You have the opportunity to go back and experience one event from your past again, purely in the moment as your younger self (so you have no new perspective or hindsight). What do you choose?

I'd go back to the day I sat my 11 plus. It was the first exam I ever took. In the weeks before it, my fairly useless, somewhat hippy teacher, Mr Cudmore, gave us what he called 'practice papers'. He didn't say they were 'past papers' or explain that these were exactly what we would have to do on the day of the exam. I thought it was like training for a race, I suppose; I thought the questions on the day would be significantly harder.

I got 90/100 for the first one I did, because I didn't read the boring logic/maths questions properly. I learnt from this initial failing and thereafter I got between 97 and 100, usually 99, annoyingly. The closest to me in my class was Karen Willsher, who usually got a mark in the mid eighties, and after her the nearest was about seventy. I'm intensely competitive and, disliking her already, this made me loathe her. I would have loved a clear 25% between me and my peers. I always finished first, so was allowed to sit with a book on my desk, so I could read when I was done.

I was bristlingly nervous on the day of the exam, fearful that there might be more of the dreary logic/maths questions and that they might be much harder than the ones I had encountered before. I had never been nervous about anything before. I've not really had that kind of anxiety about anything since, really; I am wired for apathy and stoicism, and can never worry about a thing until it has actually happened. I tend to assume the worst won't happen, and only an imbecile would fret about it until it actually has happened. The only time I have ever been really afraid of the worst outcome was a couple of years ago when a small child went briefly missing. Then, and on the day of the exam I was struck by the shockness newness of the feeling. On the day the child went missing it was sickening; on the day of my exam, exhiliarating.

I was almost disappointed when I realised the questions were exactly like the ones I had done before. They were just as easy, I answered them just as quickly, I read them through twice over. I have other more poignant or thrilling memories, but I loved that day. It was my first proper encounter with The World beyond home and school. It seemed it was going to be a secure, simple place; one in which, with ease, I might shine. The key words there are 'with ease'. My potential remains, as it will, unfulfilled. Intellect in the absence of industry is only useful as a means of fending off boredom (though, thankfully not just one's own boredom).

I got a hundred percent in my exam and attended a special jamboree in Chelmsford for all the little Essex County children who got full marks. I was the youngest, being only ten and four months when I sat the exam, and the only girl. I was also, though no one remarked on it, at least not audibly, the only darkie. I suspect (anachronistically? This was 1979) that I was the only one who wouldn't have been able to rearrange a Rubik's cube. Karen Willsher passed her eleven plus exam, too and went to the girls' grammar school that I attended. I retained a disproportionate and unwholesome resentment of her. In the summer of our first year, during a games lesson on our playing field, knowing full well from our primary schooldays that she detested worms (in the seventies only the famous had phobias), I dropped a massive, juicy earthworm down the back of her aertex blouse and squashed it firmly against her delicate freckled skin. It was the first time I ever saw anyone properly hysterical. She didn't come to school for two days after that. I don't think it did her any long term damage. She's now married to her third husband, a polo player, and lives on a ranch in Brazil.

3. Which book do you think everyone in the world should read?

The Song of Solomon. If you are English, read the King James version, despite its inaccuracies it is still beautiful poetry. It was written about the same time or before most of the scriptural texts of most of the big religions. It amazes me that it ended up in the Bible. It's a sensual love poem, and it celebrates flesh and appetite. All the similes and references are either to the natural world - fruit, scenery, deer, trees - or to sensual pleasures - wine, feasting, sleeping. The narrator is ambiguous, it could be a male or a female voice, possibly even a dialogue, and the references to tents and chariots and fountains thrust one firmly into an ancient world, a world before writing, even. The nature of the love itself is ambiguous: 'my sister, my spouse.... this is my beloved, this is my friend', but the strength of it sings out across four millenia 'Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave". There is no such thing as universal art, but this is, I think, as close as it gets. It's about the scent of the landscape where one lives, the shape of the body that one loves. It sings in a hesitant human voice, from an unmasked face. It does not impersonate the voice of a god in order to censure and control, nor recount the acts of a godlike man to warn against hubris, nor invoke the notiona of a demon-like woman to warn against sin. It is 'beauty is truth', thousands of years before Keats.

4. Glamour or comfort?

Oh,glamour is essential. It is the face one paints on to leave the house and face the world. It's confidence and hutpah in a bottle. Comfort is the cosiness and relief when you return home and take off the mask, so they are part of the same thing for me. I don't, as you know, hold with new agey, pop-psychological, omphaloscopic self improvement wankery but I will happily attest to the benefits of having a public look/persona that one can construct at will. I love getting ready to go out and assembling a look suitable for the occasion. I love make up and hair doodads and jewellery and scarves and handbags because no matter how much of lardbucket one is at any given point, these things will always work/fit/render one's look more distinctive. I couldn't wear things that didn't match or contrast effectively. I was appalled when wardytron went out wearing a brown shirt with black boots the other day. That said, I don't like a man to be too well-groomed. I like men clean, neat and fragrant, but excessive prinking and preening is not appealing and I was faintly nauseated but Wardy's titivating at the weekend (in a futile attempt to get ID-checked).

Glamour is about one's surroundings, as well. I have two tiers of friends. There are the initimate ones, who can see me and my home in whatever state we happen to be in, and those who aren't so close, who will not gain admittance unless all is neat and tidy. That said, I prefer to have self and home well-groomed for everybody; it's a kind of courtesy.

I also like the contrast between the two, which can sometimes be very sharp. It allows an extra layer of intimacy with lovers who get to see me at my domestic and unvarnished.

5. Is it cruel to use a flamingo as a croquet mallet?

Occasionally I one of those tiresome chuggers will bounce up to me and ask, "Do you love animals?" The only response to this is, "YES! I love eating, riding, wearing and hunting them". There are people I would happily use as croquet mallets, so I would have no qualms about using a flamingo. As long as I could roast it afterwards.