Sunday, 19 August 2012

In which a compliment sparks a half-baked theory

Someone said a very kind thing today. She said: ‘You have retained your childlike enthusiasm. You have not been beaten down by life.’

I don’t generally like passing on compliments about myself. It’s a most unBritish form of showing off. Even if one couches it in self-deprecation, it qualifies for what people on Twitter now call the humblebrag. But it interested me because it made me think that often what we think of as weaknesses may be perceived as strengths. May even be actual strengths. (I have not fully worked out this theory yet.)

As the regular readers will know, I am prone to enthusiasms. I suddenly go nuts for racing or the Olympics or the American election or some new thing on Radio Four. (When John Finnemore’s Cabin Pressure is on, I have to restrain myself from writing of it every day, complete with sonnets to the loveliness of Roger Allam.) This is not always what I consider seemly in a woman of my age. I am surely supposed to have learnt some composure by now? I am rather afraid of the self-contained people, because I have never learnt self-containment, and when I am with them I feel like one of those out of control mutt puppies, knocking things over with my paws, whilst they are regal Borzois, gazing at me in distant astonishment.

I feel like an idiot quite a lot of the time. The enthusiasms are part of the reason I feel like an idiot. As I was contemplating this, I wondered if even this is a bad thing. Obviously, I imagine it would be lovely and restful not to feel like an idiot, but on the other hand, the spectre of idiocy does act as an excellent brake to hubris. If you are secretly convinced you are a bit of a fool, you are much less likely to persecute people or stand in strict judgement or impose your stern moral code on a group or cohort, or invade countries. (Not that I am actually in a position to start invading places, but you take my wider point.)

On the rare occasions that I meet an Alpha Male, I am always struck by a feeling of surprise. There was a surgeon I met not that long ago, absolutely shining with brilliance and certainty and cleverness and accomplishment. He was a tremendous conversationalist and very funny and polite, but still, there was something surprising, even disconcerting, about him. I thought for a while it was just his general Alpha-ness. Now I wonder if the batsqueak of astonishment comes from the fact that people like that probably never feel like idiots, ever.

Folly, I think now, is stitched into the human condition. I have always wondered why people accuse other people of being irrational, as if it were an odd thing to be, when most of human thinking is shot through with the irrational. You have to make a strict mental effort to be a rationalist; magical thinking goes back to the caves. I sometimes wish I did not have quite so much folly. I do wonder, as I sing to my horse, and tell her stories of her famous grandfather, and give her massages with special balm that I have made for her, at the chasms of my folly. When I wake up on any day that Frankel is going to a racecourse and feel as if all my Christmases have come at once, I do slightly question whether this is entirely appropriate for a forty-five-year old female, who has been round the block a few times. Should I not be a little more world-weary? Should I not attempt to channel Gore Vidal or Charlotte Rampling?

I sometimes think it might be rather lovely to be mysterious and sophisticated and enigmatic (as the magical thinking part of my brain imagines that all French women are). But one must face one’s limitations. I shall never be Charlotte Rampling, because most of the time I am stumping round a muddy field, belting out a vaguely out of tune rendition of The Rhythm of Life to Red the Mare. And that, literally, metaphorically, is all she wrote.


Pictures are from yesterday evening, when the special Scottish sun was dazzling about everywhere:

Pot table and garden:

19 Aug 1

19 Aug 2

19 Aug 3

19 Aug 4

19 Aug 5

Red’s View:

19 Aug 8

19 Aug 9

19 Aug 10-002

Myfanwy the Pony:

19 Aug 10

Red the Mare, bathed in evening light:

19 Aug 10-001

19 Aug 11

Will you throw the ball?:

19 Aug 13


19 Aug 14


19 Aug 20


  1. Oh, but how very boring to be Charlotte Rampling, don't you think? Elegance and all of that sort of thing is fine to look at on a screen for 2 hours, and that's really where it ought to stay--imagine being that elegant person-- how wearying. For myself I'd much rather spend time with a big-footed mutt puppy than a Borzoi, anyway. You can always pick up the furniture later.

    Thank you for pointing out that irrationality is our baseline state ("magical thinking goes back to the caves" is such a nice way to put it), and thanks also for the Pigeon series today. She anyway has a thoroughly rational grasp on what matters.

    1. Ellie - that really is one of the loveliest comments I have ever had. ESPECIALLY the bit about the Pidge and her rational grasp on the universe. Thank you. :)

  2. Recently saw a documentary/ interview with Charlotte Rampling made in Paris in 2009 by director Jack Bond. Yes, she appears incredibly elegant & composed; she is also self-deprecating, playful & definitely NOT beaten down by life. (A quick Wikipedia check shows Rampling hasn't had it "easy" at all despite appearances!)
    Just sayin'...

    I think it's WONDERFUL that anyone (especially in adulthood) can continue to be amazed and enthusiastic and expressive about all sorts. Think the world needs many more celebratory "fools" and honest-to-goodness foolishness (NOT to be confused with stupidity, etc.)
    Rock on!

  3. Great observation that recognizing one's own foolishness is a good deterrent to being judgmental. And the capacity for magical thinking, for being amazed, for folly--for, in the end, enthusiasm rather than bored sophistication--has to be one of life's finest gifts. Yes, you've got it. The nice thing is you share it.


  4. I have often found the most prejudiced, opinionated and judgmental people rarely, if ever, tell a joke against themselves. They are so wearing to be around, huge waves of negativity just crashing over one. I have cut as many as possible of these types out of my life (much easier now I no longer go out to work), and many of them seem to have cut me put of theirs as I am seemingly too frivolous, wayward and juvenile for them. Yipee!

    Now we are both retired my husband (aged 56) and I(aged 55 )have shed fifty years and are like a pair of infant-schoolers with just about enough adult sense of responsibility to pay the bills and drive the car without crashing. We turn as much of life as we can into play, and joy, and silliness, and laughter.

    If I try to be too grown-up I get very very grumpy. Better avoided, eh?


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