p’s and m’s

Do you remember p’s and q’s ? 

That somebody very much the wiser might have suggested to you that in that circumstance of being interviewed for your first job, meeting future parents in law, presenting the details of a case you hoped to win with the help of a famously acute solicitor –  “you might like to watch your p’s and q’s.”   Stands apparently for not confusing your pints and quarts (a quart being two pints) on an ale house tally (1800 or thereabouts)  P’s and m’s aren’t the same.  They’re much simpler.  P’s and m’s just stand for plusses and minuses.

They came to my mind

when I read an extract from a book by a woman who stayed with her husband though she was unhappy and serially unfaithful to him up to and including his early death from cancer – but who now feels liberated by that death.   (All of This by Rebecca Woolf published September 1, £20)  It’s one of the few times I can remember that I felt p and m in equal amounts: I admired her for trying to face some difficult facts – though there is a glaring hole in the middle of the extract of her account as I read it – nevertheless (p).   Though with four children I wished she hadn’t gone public, hoping for a bestseller (m).  

I starting thinking of minuses the other day when the neighbours over the back got raucously tipsy for the third hot night in a row and there was nowhere in my flat to

escape the braying.   I try not to look for minuses.  I confess I have never missed getting drunk with the girls which I would see as a plus.  I have great women friends, but I prefer to be with them one at a time.  And we have got drunk but not to the disturbance of anybody else (surely a p)

I have never seen Everest (m)

or come to that, Tierra del Fuego (the landscape of infrequent dreams) but clearly if it was so important to me, I would have done something about it.  And I wonder if in going off to see the mountain now, I’d have to face the spoiling of the holy Bagmati River with sewage and trash (see NextDraft, edited by Dave Pell).   That would be a minus.  And I can remember coming to the conclusion that most of my journeys were inward (p) rather than outward, just as  mass tourism began to destabilise and soil old walls and wear out paving stones never meant for the abuse of thousands of extraneous feet (m).

Silence and quiet became increasingly something to treasure so although I have hooted with joy at blues and clapped and stamped with enthusiasm at rock concerts, I have never had anything to do with karaoke which I’d say was a plus.     

There is only one piece of synthetic fibre among my outer clothes (p) and my raincoat is actually waterproof (p).   Over time I was able to look at the shape of my life and see that it was different  after my  second marriage ended in divorce (p) and  that’s best summed up by a line in a film about Elizabeth I

“I have become a virgin !” (p)   I was immensely damaged and began again in a different direction, though I suppose you could see that as a minus because I didn’t dare to try. 

I am not keen on oriental cuisine beyond variants of Chinese and Indian – Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese doesn’t do it for me and I loathe sushi (m).   It must be a minus because so many other people like it.

I have had my hair coloured by never bleached (p).  And the current passion for overlong, flattened, sub-Cleopatra locks leaves me cold (m).

Although I read widely, there’s quite a list of stuff I wouldn’t give houseroom (m) and in some cases I have tried (m) but what I enjoy reading, I really enjoy and I still read more than most people I know (p).   If you have relative health, enough to survive on and the personality to go with both, age is a plus.  I call it The Last Great Freedom, much more p than m.   

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