Not so very long ago, I had to disappoint someone.
It was awful. I hated it. It was also entirely my fault.
I had, in a moment of excitement, made a rash suggestion which turned out to be logistically impossible. More than that, it was not in my gift. So I had to revoke it, and create a state of disappointment in another human.
I think I may have a rather horrid self-regarding fantasy that it is quite charming, just to speak out loud what comes into your head at the moment you think it. It’s all those words that people like: spontaneous and real and expansive. It’s the very opposite of the thing which made Ian Katz, the editor of Newsnight, tweet that Rachel Reeves was ‘snoring boring’. Rachel Reeves was excessively dull on Newsnight. But she was dull for a very particular reason, which was a calculated suppression of all spontaneity.
She did the thing, absolutely on purpose as so many front-line politicians do, of sticking doggedly to her talking points, so robotically on-message that there was no room for wit or whim or improvisation.
I am almost certain that in life she is not boring at all. John Major, for instance, caricatured to death for his vapid, grey dullness, is by all reports rather dazzling and naughty in real life. Even in his recent public pronouncements, now he is freed from the confines of office, he is interesting and sage and often unexpected. I never, ever thought that John Major would turn into the sort of person I would stop everything for when he comes on the radio, but he has. (Alistair Darling is another who has followed the exact same trajectory. Trucker’s Weekly voted him most boring MP twice. Now he may roam around the backbenches, liberated from the shackles of the Message of the Day, he is suddenly fascinating. But then I’ve always had a most peculiar love for Alistair Darling.)
All of which is another of my absurd tangents. The point is: I’m not sure this wild shooting from the hip is all that charming. Of course one cannot police every word; of course freedom of expression is a lovely thing; of course a syncopated verbal riff is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. But words matter. Some people may think you really mean something which in fact is just a dancing, glancing thought. I often start hares running with no idea where they are going. I have a tendency to hold ideas up to the light and examine their facets. I come up with outlandish plans which sound delightful one day, and idiotic the next.
Not that long ago, I told the Horse Talker that all I really wanted to do was get on Red the Mare and ride to Skye. Ride to Skye???? What was I thinking? Imagine how cross and wet and lost we would get. Both of us hate camping. (Or at least, I am assuming that my grand duchess would not like roughing it at all. She is very particular about the correct time for tea, and gives one de haut en bas looks if it arrives late.) But for at least two days, I believed that was the sole purpose of my equine life.
I think my point is that the mark of being an adult is composed of two parts: understanding that actions have consequences, and taking responsibility for those consequences. I remember coming up with this idea at a moment when I was very, very cross about the privileging of romantic love above all things. The idea was, still is in certain foolish quarters, that love excuses everything. If you are truly in love, you can break up families, wound the blameless, uproot bewildered children, all because you must be instinctive and spontaneous and real and follow your stupid heart.
I think this is arrant nonsense. I remember crying at that moment in Brief Encounter when the conventional old husband says to Celia Johnson something like, ‘You’ve been a long, long way away.’ I cried not because she was leaving dashing Trevor Howard, but because she had done the right thing. That was where the pathos lay.
I think that is why in the future I’m going to be a little bit more careful in what I say. I make the rather arrogant assumption that people will understand the difference between the things about which I am convinced and serious, and the ones which I am rashly or whimsically trying on for size. Think before you speak is not such a very bad rule for life. Sentences, like actions, have consequences; one must be responsible for them. The feckless, heedless part of my brain tends to run faster than my mouth. I’m going to take it aside and have a very, very stern word.
Are actually from today, for once. Sheep and hills and trees and coos. Something very peaceful about them all:
It sounds a bit odd, but as I write this I’ve only just taken in the fact that it is September 11th.
I never know what to say on that anniversary.
I suppose that perhaps today’s subject is appropriate, since it is about actions and consequences. The odd thing about terrorist organisations, from Al Quaida to the IRA, is that they never take responsibility for their actions. Someone else always made them do it: the evil Western imperium, the corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Americans, the British government, God. They never say: we wanted to blow a lot of people up, and we did. They use weasel words and oddly childish excuses. They point fingers of moral equivalence and say: but they did it first, or worse. I don’t think one can ever have respect for any organisation that deals in death, but one might at least take them more seriously if they told the truth.