- •Contact us
- •About us
- •Advertise with the FT
- •Terms & conditions
© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
October 28, 2011 10:06 pm
Walking down my street I was struck by the rather lovely sight of the supermodel who lives a few doors down from me washing her front steps. The sleeves of her checked shirt rolled to the elbow, her golden hair scraped back off her face, she was giving it her all: buckets, hoses, suds. Her technique wasn’t just impressive, considering all her wealth and back catalogue of Vogue covers, it was work of the high standard you would expect from a pricey industrial cleaning outfit.
At the pavement beyond her front garden there flowed a violent tide of thick, soapy water, so I had to do some fancy hops and skips not to ruin my velvet shoes. “Sorry,” she beamed down at me.
“Oh no, not at all, it’s completely fine!” my voice trailed away as my cheeks flushed radish. She started wiping down the front door, vigorously working a rag into the dark panels. This young woman, who often seemed to have a sad, faraway look in her eyes at parties and premieres, was brimming with happiness.
It was a lesson and the lesson was this: what will make us happy is awfully hard to predict. So often in life it is the oddest things that bring us pleasure: not the holidays and the celebrations and galas, but the time you were visiting a friend in prison and the large female warden frisked you up and down at security, then stood back admiringly, saying, “They’re very in, these three-quarter length coats.” Or the evening when you saw your phlebotomist on the bus and he did an elaborate mime of taking some of your blood across the chatter and madness of the rush-hour top deck, and you could not stop laughing; or the time you almost got snowed in at the Ritz last winter, and when the doorman went on his break you found yourself at midnight on the door for quarter of an hour, despite a complete lack of epaulettes, deciding who could come in and who couldn’t. Or last night when there wasn’t a hot water bottle to be found and you discovered that the Apple laptop you were using doubled as a rather excellent bed warmer.
Later that day, inspired by my neighbour’s festive approach to life, I decided to eschew public transport and walk briskly across two London parks to my destination, using the BT Tower to guide me like the star of Bethlehem. I was on a hospital visit that required courage and gumption. It was a sharp and golden autumn day, the sky blue and cloudless, the light so bright it was quite difficult to see. I had some old football boots on and my high heels swinging in a carrier bag. (It is a courtesy to the unwell to be well-dressed if you can manage it.)
Walking through Regent’s Park, I was just remarking, again, how brilliantly green the grass, how azure the sky, and how lucky I was – etc etc – when I admitted to myself I was bored out of my skull. I recited the ring speech from Twelfth Night to see if I could still remember it. I did a brief appraisal of my Christmas shopping list. which is frankly still mired in development hell. (There are only so many people who will welcome personalised Love Hearts.) I thought of an argument I had at university with a man who pronounced that he didn’t like landscapes, only portraits, and how cross it made me, but suddenly I understood: it was human geography I craved, at the very least a human geography teacher, resplendent in geometric intarsia knitwear.
I felt my mood ebb and dwindle towards the doldrums. A duo of squirrels with extravagant tails was trying and failing to be cute. I took myself in hand. It was going to have to be something lavish. OK, I said, you have the London Palladium for half an hour. What will you sing in the first half? Choose anything you like.
The decisions were agonising, snippets of songs ambushed me from all angles. “In the depression was I depressed? Nowhere near”; “If they ever put a bullet through your brain, I’ll complain;” “Madame will not be dining/ Yes, you can bring the wine in”; “I wasn’t born to stately halls and alabaster/I haven’t given many balls for Mrs Astor.”
Soon I was in my stride but it still felt more like first aid than actual, you know, fun. “Don’t worry,” I murmured into the sweet air, “when you get home, for a treat, you can do the front steps.”
More columns at www.ft.com/boyt
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.