Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The delights of imperfection

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I talk quite often of the perfection genie that lives on my shoulder and yells into my ear. In some ways, I think it is not an entirely malign thing. It is just as well that there is some internal engine that lashes me on to greater endeavour. I get quite cross about banal or careless or lazy writers who expect harried readers to give up hours of their priceless time to read rotten prose. It is important to pay close attention to punctuation, to check that grammar is not all over the shop, to place carefully the crucial semi-colon.

On the other hand, the perfection genie can ruin a perfectly good day, to no great effect. When Sarah came to stay, I got into such a hostess frenzy that by the time she arrived, my sensibilities were singed and I grew occasionally snappish, which was not the point at all.

I was thinking of this because last night turned out to be a perfectly enchanting evening. The guests turned up with fine wines; the conversation ran like a river in full flood; the house looked pretty; the dogs behaved well. There were jokes. We talked of the rise of China, the new Russians, boats, King Zog of Albania, education, Venice in the 1960s, travel, and manners. All this was despite the fact that it was not my best ever Irish stew. I KNOW. Irish stew used to be my signature dish, but I had not made it in a while, and although it was quite good, it was not excellent. I think I might have chosen the wrong cut of lamb. Also, I put slightly too much oatmeal in the soda bread, so it was a little too heavy and dense. In some moods, I might have decided this rendered the entire night a rank failure. I would have forgotten about the fact that the smoked mackerel paté turned out sublime, and the special salsa was delicious, and the cheese from the village was of the creamiest and finest. I would have forgotten that everyone had a perfectly lovely time. I would have grown fretful that my brother-in-law did not have a second helping.

Instead I thought: sometimes stew is just stew, rather than a world-beating item that people write home about. The point was, it could not have mattered less.

In some ways, I am rather fond of the perfection genie. I would rather have that than a blah who cares genie. It would be sad if people came round and I just opened a tin. I suppose I am learning that I don't have to listen all the time, that's all. For some reason, I keep hearing that old Kenny Rogers line in my head: you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. The striving itself may not be a bad thing, as long as one can forgive oneself for falling short.

In the spirit of imperfection, the pictures of the day are my utter failures. They are so out of focus and generally wrong that I do not know what half of them were meant to be. I think though that they have a sort of lovely badness all of their own:



Wrong 1





And here is one I took yesterday, which I like very much, because although it is almost a disaster, it is just in focus enough to save itself:


And something to remind you that perfection does exist in the world, and it can be a very fine thing indeed:



Obviously, I am biased. Perfection is as perfection does, as Mary Poppins might have said.


PS. Talking of imperfection, I have been lackadaisical about replying to comments lately. You have left some very charming ones over the last couple of days, and I am so sorry I have not replied. Thank you for them all.


  1. Oh yes... the perfection genie... great post!! we all need to find her shut off button (sometimes ~ only) and just live in the moment... HHL

  2. I think the first images could be blown up poster-size, like James Rosenquist. They're exquisite.

    So everyone has the perfection genie...very glad to discover this.

    Miss W

  3. Here's my question about the perfection genie. I've hired a cleaner, she's coming tomorrow and I couldn't be more relieved that someone else will be taking on some of the domestic chores that right now are proving a little tricky. So why have I just spent 25 minutes this afternoon sweeping the kitchen floor and cleaning the loos before she comes so she doesn't think we're disgusting pigs who live in squalor? And I noticed I made a mental note to make sure I wipe down the hob after I've made dinner tonight so it'll be clean for her to clean tomorrow...

  4. My aunt sometimes quotes the saying "Perfection is the enemy of the good", i.e., I suppose, if your standards are impossibly high you don't get anything much done at all. Middle Eastern carpet makers add a small imperfection to a carpet's pattern, in case they're seen by God as presumptuous in trying to produce perfection. I think people enjoy dinner parties much more if things aren't completely perfect - there's less constraint. (I don't strive for perfection but I would like to be better, in a lot of ways!)

    But the first lovely dog picture is rather ... perfect! I wonder how dogs would photograph us if they could? Maybe putting their food into a dish, or throwing a stick; or they might have some doggy point of view which would utterly amaze us!

  5. The perfection genie has so much to answer for - mostly because she stops us doing things. And I like those first pics - the colours are vibrant and I like the mystery.


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