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October 12, 2012 8:32 pm
Years ago I sloughed off my inner child, that eager and serious young girl with her head in a book and her knees in a plié, desperate for approval and buns. She had paid her dues (all right then, her library fines) and done her time (even if it was only prison visiting). Tremulous and anxious to please, she was certainly no trouble, but I was awfully glad when she flew the nest, all the same.
These days my grown-up self houses two rum residents who really very seldom see eye to eye. They go at each other constantly, hammer and tongs, night and day. Sometimes I even wonder if my inner chorus girl, she who cancans to order and lives off weak whisky and pink maribou, sets out deliberately to offend my inner grandma, who is altogether more sedate (in navy silk jersey), or whether it is the other way round. I don’t know. Nobody tells me anything ’round here.
We go on, the three of us, through thick and thin, through bush and through briar, snagging our hearts and our tights (silver spangled or charcoal merino) and I try to keep the peace. Sometimes it is easier said than done. At each juncture, at each roundabout in the journey that is my life, there are fraught little contests.
Should I do the liveliest thing or take the path most dignified? Do I want to be immaculate or original? Proud or screwball? Red gingham or midnight velvet? Candlesticks or moonlight? Wait for my moment or go all out always? None of it is obvious.
The chorus girl is fine-hearted and good-natured. When people borrow money from her – and she hasn’t much – they don’t feel the need to pay it back. So used, is she, to giving people the benefit of the doubt that she doesn’t know how to doubt things properly anymore. She wears her fair hair like a halo. She tries not to harden.
The grandma doesn’t suffer fools. She knows that she is lucky, and with good fortune comes responsibilities, but she thinks the things she doesn’t like are ludicrous, pointless – the end. The grandma frightens people a little but I can’t help noticing they treat her awfully well. Occasionally she melts, and it’s as though strong sunshine is flooding the room. It’s not that she’s unkind, exactly, but she has harsh moments, especially in Piccadilly, where there’s just no arguing with her. Yet they share some core beliefs, my rivalrous two comrades. If they both had their way, I would spend more on roses than I do on food. Neither likes to be viewed at anything other than her best. They love – no, need – things that sparkle: the grandma has sharp, alarming brooches (crocodiles, beetles, arachnids); the chorus girl likes loose bracelets and coloured stones and ribbons. They both love to linger in the Burlington Arcade. As do I.
. . .
This morning, my inner grandma awoke with one thought and one thought only: “A skirted round centre table – it is time.” I imagined the sort of patterned fabric my mum might describe as, “Oh how lovely and hideous”. Something vivid, something hectic, printed on stiff linen: crimson, damson, raspberry. I pictured it in the middle of the sitting room, a chubby, florid debutante, or the uncertain mother of the bride. I would cover it in books and jugs of flowers and boxes of chocolates so that when you sauntered over to it, it would never fail to catch your eye. Like the best bric-a-brac stall at the fair, it would not fail to draw you back.
I have a new book about the best parties of the first half of the 20th century that would be splayed open at the Beaux Arts ball of 1931. (It was advertised in the New York Times as being “modernistic, futuristic, cubistic, altruistic, mystic, architistic and feministic”). I have a copy of Keats’s odes in facsimile form, with a mustardy dust jacket, his light, serious handwriting on the page surprisingly robust. I have champagne truffles in a pink and white striped drum that need eating; cherry-coloured nail varnish; a pair of lozenge-shaped 1920s china dishes printed with pale lilac geraniums.
My inner grandma dreams of hand-blocked hollyhock cloth by Mrs Monro or, even better, her polyanthus fabric with clusters of blooms against a pink moiré ground. Where, she booms, is the harm?
So easy-going is the chorus girl that she might just roll her eyes at this. She hates, loathes and abominates fuss. Yet, when grandma takes charge there’s not much you can do.
Besides, I’ve learnt it is wise to pick my battles with myself. Next month we can be silver and jazz-age and streamlined. It’s not a bad life.
More columns at www.ft.com/boyt
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