There are things I don’t want to do or be, even at my age. I don’t want to assess strangers on the basis of money spent, except for curiosity. Like the woman in her 30s and some of the most expensive and unbecoming clothes, coming past a bus stand where I was waiting in the company of an attractive man not more than a few years her senior. As she went past, he caught my eye and, plainly puzzled, asked “What’s that about ?” I told him “Money. She is wearing several thousand pounds’ worth of clothes – never mind they do nothing for her – in order to tell you you’d better have commensurate income, if you aspire to her.” Bless him, he burst out laughing, took his bus and waved goodbye.
Three times now, Wal has rung me in sartorial pain over a well remunerated female presenter’s dress on television. It’s wildly funny – the sepulchral voice asking distressfully “what IS she wearing?” But it is also deadly serious. So many have a disconnection between what they want to see and what is there, to levels of distorted vision common in body dysmorphia.
That and pursuing symbolic youth as if it were the stolen keys to your house.
There is a woman of my own age I meet on the bus, slight as a whippet with grey hair becomingly cut in a bob, and after we had spoken several times, I asked if we might meet, perhaps for tea or coffee. “I never give my telephone number to anyone” she said. “If I did, I would have to answer it …” We continue to speak when we meet but I am wary in a way I never was before. She was my first experience of the drawbridge being well and truly up, of regarding all strangers with equal misgiving. It gave me a whole new insight into preferring your own company.
Wary grows like a weed as you get older. God knows, I am not growing more attractive day by day but looks play less of role in assault than availability and I don’t feel comfortable having a man in the house I am not sure of. I like to think I can take care of myself, but I am not about to put myself in harm’s way to find out.
And then I look at people who handed over their entire savings to a scammer, and I pause, not to judge them as foolish – but to wonder the how and why. I remember telling a man making a financial presentation I’d like him to leave, low voice, implacably polite. And never let him in again.
I told a friend a story about jury service (I am so glad I took part), how one of my colleagues on the jury saw a discrepancy between the use of languages in the courtroom (in this case, Gujerati, Hindi and Tamil), that where he hesitated , afraid of making a fuss, I put up my hand instantly, and was responded to with equal speed by a court official. “How brave !” remarked my friend and I was struck all over again by how many people are intimidated by any process with which they are not familiar. You can get it wrong, make a fool of yourself but embarrassment doesn’t kill you.
It’s not that I am brave (in many ways a distinction in wuss) but it is so easy to retreat, to only eat and watch and do what you know – sometimes for reasons of comfort, sometimes for reasons of fear. There is no point if you live alone in watching something terrifying and then spending the rest of the night behind the sofa with a torch and a poker. But I can’t see going through life not thinking, because not thinking leads to not learning and not learning is a frightful waste of time.
I think of Kipling’s Elephant’s Child and his insatiable curiosity. I am frequently madder than fire about the “half a story” that passes for news, and the “puff” and the opinion. But I admit there are things I don’[t want to know more about, because they induce anxiety which has increased over time. Still and all, on a scale of one to five, the door is three parts open.