NOT ALL SUGAR AND SPICE

Recently I realised, (lamentably slowly, it would appear) that some woman of my peripheral acquaintance had taken unreasonable exception to some passing remark of mine.    For some time,  I saw in retrospect, she had been trying to entice me into a conversational minefield where she would deliver a pre-planned put down for whatever triviality had bothered her.

Not having intended to wound in the first place, nor, I have to admit being very interested in either her or her refined sensibilities, I had unfortunately failed to react at all to the conversational sign-posts, until eventually the poor woman in frustration at my not having the common decency to give her the platform to perform her (rehearsed) speech, felt obliged to deliver it out of the blue.    This further injustice of mine of course robbed it of whatever power she may have supposed it held, but the peculiarity of its inappropriate placing made me – at last – pay attention and see what was happening.

I reflected that she must consider me very stupid that I had failed to respond to her very obvious signals and attempts to annoy me, but it had simply never occurred to me that she would be so bold.    I had just interpreted her eccentricities of conversation as owing to to her being an uneducated, charmless, mannerless oaf.

Firstly, if you have to pre-prepare a verbal attack – if you cannot kick your opponent in the by-going with no previous thought whatsoever;  if the stones you’re going to throw don’t leap unbidden to your hand, then this is a field of combat where you most decidedly should not enter.    There are some people so skilled in verbal combat – Ian Hislop for one, and Alex Salmond for another – that any sensible person would recognise the folly of taking them on under any circumstances.    Styles vary – Hislop always looks slightly incredulous that anyone would be so stupid, whereas Salmond’s bland face rarely loses its potato like calm.   Alan Johnson has a good-natured, man of the people approachableness, but he’s a rapier wielding assassin, and if you blink you miss the flash of steel and wonder wny his opponent is bleeding while Johnson still exudes working class charm.    Michael Foot had a very long deceptive preamble and he reminded me of a knight lumbering up on an old horse in a jousting competiton, and you wondered as he thundered – no, chundered, along why his flashier opponent looked so anxious, until by some sleight of hand you’d somehow missed, the opponent was dead on the floor.   I’d be content just to sit at the feet of these warriors and admire their skill.   You see occasional fools on TV who don’t have this much wit, and clearly you don’t have to be on TV to be this stupid.

Secondly, once you realise someone is trying to annoy you and manoeuvre you into a quarrel, the game’s over.   They may as well clear off and try to ignite some other fire.    You’re never going to get annoyed if only for the perverse pleasure of watching them lose their temper long before you do.

And thirdly, by behaving as they do, they prove themselves so unworthy an opponent, so crass in their tactics, so impoverished in their strategy, that you’re not going to accept them for whatever duel they might propose in any case.   You have to maintain some standards, after all.

As for my original point?   The one that presumably offended in the first place?   If I could remember what it was, I’d stand by it!

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DO PANIC!

Normally, I’m delighted to see ‘Experts’ confounded.    I never believe them in the first place, so I’m not in the least surprised when they are found to have been talking out of their – well, not the appropriate orifice.

A particular bane of mine is when some supposedly august body of learning spends a million or so pounds and several years investigating say – the effects on health and well being of consuming fizzy, sugary drinks instead of water.    Finally – fanfare of trumpets – expert opinion informs us that the consumption of fizzy drinks will make you fat, rot your teeth and probably addle your brain.     Well, blow me down with a feather.   What a surprise!    We’d never have guessed that.   How the sum of human knowledge is increased.

But Financial experts – now I supposed them to be different.    The magnitude of my ignorance, and, it has to be said, my total lack of interest in the mechanics of the subject – have led me to believe – no, actually hope – that they knew what they were talking about.

I know how to spend and how not to spend.   I understand the principles of book-keeping.   But basically I just want everybody to live in modest comfort.   Speculating on the stock exchange, compound interest rates, the futures market – there’s more hope of my understanding Klingon.   So it’s comforting to think that although it’s all a mystery to me, somewhere out there are people who have all the answers.

But I’m beginning to wonder if my faith in the Priests of Mammon has been misplaced.   I’m surrounded in this family by economists, accountants, finance men and they are all very disapproving when you say their field is not a science but a black art.     It’s all guess-work, guile, greed and sophistry.    What’s more, it doesn’t work.    It does work, they assure me righteously in the same True Believer tone that Gordon Brown said, ‘Boom and bust is over’.

It is disconcerting to feel in the present crisis that expert opinion at the moment is in a barely concealed panic.   It hasn’t a foggy idea how to get us out of this mess, any more than I do.    I’d think it was funny if it wasn’t so sxerious.

Addendum

Forgot to give link to restaurant in blog on Guilty Pleasures.   I have now inserted this into the text, if any local readers fancy giving it a try.

GUILTY PLEASURES

A few weeks ago we had lunch in an Italian restaurant in Hove, (www.otellorestaurant.co.uk) treated by a delightful friend I met in hospital, and who was very kind to me when I was feeling low.

This restaurant has wonderful food, and a menu full of things I love.

As a starter, I generally either have melon with parma ham, or if I’m not feeling up to three courses (and it is absolutely imperative to leave room for the pudding), I share John’s Tricolora Salad, with its pale green avocado, creamy mozarella and bright green basil, all contrasting with the glistening red of the large slices of tomato.

Main course – and this is the chief guilty bit – is veal.   I know, I know I shouldn’t, but it is so very delicious.   I’m working my way through the options – I’ve had vcal with lemon juice; breaded veal; veal with marsala sauce.   They’re all utterly scrumptious.

As for the pudding, though our hostess assures us that the tiramisu is to die for, and John loves this dessert, twice he has gallantly given it up to enable me to have the ambrosial zabaglione, which has to be ordered for two people.   Hot, sweet and overflowing, and with that distinctive taste of marsala, I rather throw myself into its foaming depth, content to drown in pleasure.    I could choose wonderful ices, or shining cheese cake, or profiteroles, pannacotta – all favourites of mine, but I never voluntarily pass up the zabaglione.   The guilty part is that some poor chef has to stand for 15 minutes beating it, and I always request it with some trepidation, fully expecting an irate member of staff to come rushing out of the kitchen like a berserker, flailing his axe and demanding if I think he has nothing better to do…

So far, fortunately, this has not happened.   Along with the above pleasures, we appreciate the delightful, intelligent conversation of our hostess – but enjoying her company comes without guilt!

RICH BEYOND DREAMS OF AVARICE

Recently I’ve been feeling rather low and my optimistic  disposition seems to have temporarily abandoned me.    It’s probably sick of my endless whinging  and snivelling, and I’m missing it and trying to entice it back.   As ever, we do not appreciate our blessings  in life sufficiently.

I’m not by any means a starry eyed optimist.   I’m suspicious, sceptical, critical.   I’m strong willed, determined and self  reliant and once I’ve made up my mind very difficult to shift from my position.    If I, having carefully  considered my options, had made a stand, ten thousand people telling me I was wrong  would not alter my opinion.   I am aware  there are dangers in this attitude.   But  with it goes a firm belief that life is beautiful and wonderful, a willingness  to take a chance and trust in bountiful fortune.    I believe that if you face your  difficulties with the best courage you can muster;  if you are generous and giving ; if you  attempt to walk the path of virtue;  in  short if you do your very best, then spirit and strength and courage will flow  to you and all will be well (though not necessarily what you might have wished for).

And I see that though I sat down to write despondently,  in fact I still believe this.    It comes  back to love.   Love conquers all and if  only you can hold on to that it will shine a light to lead you out of the  darkest of places.     Why will love  conquer all?    Because it’s love.    Hatred, envy, selfishness, greed – these  may be powerful for a time, but in the end they are proved to be the dirty,  despicable little things they are.    How could  love not prevail?

So here’s a few of my blessings.

A good man and true walks through life beside me and has  always done his utmost to protect me (and makes me laugh.)   He is the darling of my heart.

Two lovely talented young women are my tender and beloved daughters  (and they like clothes).

A thoughtful, insightful and handsome young man is my  favourite son (and can fix my computer and cheer me up.)

My parents were gifted and skilled and loved me.

My grandchildren are a delight to me.

The spouses of my children are kind and loving and make  them happy.    May they live forever in such glad harmony.

I rejoice in my kinsmen, the near and the far of them,  those known of old and those met only recently, my own and my husband’s.    They enrich our lives and share our genes.

My intimate friends are intelligent, thoughtful and loyal  companions, who know me very well and amazingly still seem to like me (and  shopping.)

I have a varied and affectionate and fun body of friends  and I have always been extremely fortunate in the people round about me.

I have a thoughtful disposition and am happy within  myself.

I can cook and I like eating and I can eat whatever I  like and stay slim.

I have always found it easy to say whatever I want and never have to struggle to be heard.

I enjoy modest comfort and a sufficiency of material things.

In my day, some people accounted me beautiful.

I have always felt loved.

It is no wonder I have a cheerful disposition – clearly  it is a gift of fate and none of my doing.

Now of course no-one’s life is a list of unmitigated  joys.   All of the above are true, but  some of them come with difficulties.   I  have just chosen to concentrate on the positives.    But it is good to remind yourself  occasionally just how many of these you hold, and how undeserving of such benefits  you are.   I see that in the things that  really matter, I am rich beyond dreams of avarice.

Nor do I believe that my blessings are in any way  extraordinary.   Yours, I am quite sure,  are equally wonderful and miraculous.    Count them and you will see.

And as you read this, count yourself, dear reader, a  blessing of mine.