Blog has moved, redirecting you to the new blog...

Friday, 10 June 2011

What not to say

A fortnight ago I attended a course run by a man called Kenneth Cloke.  He’s well known in the mediation world, an innovator and visionary, with effortless charm and a taut tidy manner.
            He’d been up all night travelling from Edinburgh hindered by high winds and an ash cloud, but nevertheless delivered his articulate and exhaustingly interesting workshop, intricately responsive to the needs of his audience.
            He said many intriguing things during the afternoon, some of which I will drip feed into my next posts, but there was something early on that particularly struck me.  Think back, he said, to the first person you were in love with.  Imagine how different things would have been if you knew as much about relationships then as you do now.
            The point he was reaching towards was to do with how much emotion and energy we waste in arguments that can be better dealt with by a more sophisticated approach to conflict; there was also his theory that the conflict we are experiencing now is calibrated to our capability to sort it out.  But I couldn’t stop myself looking at it rather more crudely.  God yes, I thought, all those things I wish I’d said.
I made a shirt, one Christmas, for my first boyfriend.  There is a lot of work in a shirt; there are sleeves and yokes, collars and cuffs, plackets, pockets, buttons and holes.  It’s a very tricky business.  He’d chosen the fabric, it fitted well, it suited him; this was not your Aunty Betty’s Urangutang Christmas sweater situation, this shirt was one successful garment. 
            He didn’t thank me.  That’s all I remember.  He didn’t thank me.  He just gave me a kind of a look, hard to describe, and put it aside.  A few weeks later, I asked him why – that’s not exactly right – I accused him of ingratitude as part of my justification for ending the relationship.  He explained that thanking me would have been such an ordinary, such a predictable thing to do.  Bring on boring.

A couple of years later, a young man I knew at Oxford, in an effort to seduce me, said:  I bet no one’s ever said you are beautiful.  I still can’t think of the perfect answer to this – there'll be a verbal formula, certainly, but there's also magically turning him into a frog.  He’s a QC now. 

Then there was the Irish bloke with the beer gut and the beard, and truly surprising amounts of sex appeal.  He was the tortured type, blew raging hot and perishing cold throughout the very short time we were together, a period that culminated in our renting a remote cottage in the middle of Wales for half term, so that he could finally make his mind up whether to stay with me or go back to his previous girlfriend who’d cut up all his clothes when he left.  The entire week was seamlessly rank.  He refused to walk with me, talk to me, sleep with me, though I think perhaps we did eat the odd meal together.  We’d travelled in my car, and without securing my agreement, he bought four large bags of Welsh coal to take back to London for his fire.  He was also particularly anxious to be home for a certain time, having made arrangements to see friends, which meant leaving the cottage a whole day before we had to. 

I am very close to leaving this story out, not only because I can't conceive of an ending sufficiently humiliating and infuriating for this man, but also because I can't bear to think what a door mat I must have seemed.  I brought him home, I brought home his coal, I left the cottage a day early, when obviously I should have done none of these.  This isn't fiction, that's the trouble. 


  1. I have just found myself on your blog, dear P, and began to feel a certain sense of déjà vu as I read about the bloke with the beard and the beer gut and the coal in the car. And then I remembered . . .

    So many years ago but the memories of that time - we were both experiencing singularly strange encounters (or encounters with singularly strange men) - still so clear.

    I do love the blog, by the way.

  2. Yes, I should definitely been less of a doormat!