Listen to this article
It is a sad fact of life that caution is never fashionable. It can’t be fabulous. It’s never daring. It doesn’t turn heads. It won’t attract attention, unless you include mockery.
The best caution can do is hint at underlying anxiety, which might point to emotional complications that could just about indicate a highly strung sensibility, or romantically damaged beginnings that, to a special few, might appear distinguished – but don’t count on it. In the late 1980s, it was briefly fashionable to be neurotic (can you imagine?) but those days are now long gone. I am glad I knew them.
Caution makes us smaller than we are, and not in a good way. I’ve never in my life heard someone say, “Have you met my new girlfriend? She’s lovely and careful.”
So how do we, the cautious minority, navigate our lives with any sense of style? Can one be cautious with elan? Can caution have any sort of truck with glamour?
At the moment I am so risk-averse it is practically dangerous. I think it’s autumn, with its famous flair for melancholy, and also the fact I have a daughter who’s about to hit the big 1-0. I walk along the street, braced on behalf of the community at large, as if holding a 90-year-old man in one arm, and a newborn baby and a dozen eggs in the other.
In the conversations I have with myself I say: “Isn’t it extraordinary that a third of the people coming towards me are carrying lethal weapons – ie cups of very, very, hot drinks – and were they to collide with me, my life might be impaired for many years?”
If outlets purveying exceedingly hot drinks were to hit our street for the first time in winter 2010, I suggest there would be protests up and down the land, public information films warning: “Don’t try this at home guys!”
There might be a prohibition, and we’d meet in basements – blue with smoke and saxophones and sequined chorus girls for an illicit cup.
I sometimes look at the boiling hot water tap in my kitchen and think, with sorrow and advance regret, “One day I will wash my hands under you and they may never be the same again.” (It’s been an annoying constant in my life that people have always said to me that, if I’m lucky, I could possibly make it as a hand model.)
I see mothers walking along with three tiny girls riding scooters wildly next to busy thoroughfares and think, “Surely, this will come to no good.”
My children are invited to adventure birthday parties that require me to sign a form that says I will not press for damages if they fall and die, and I worry.
People often speak to me with huge affection of their childhood holidays when they roamed in packs with cousins and neighbours on heathery Scottish islands or Yorkshire moors and Cornish beaches unhampered by any pesky adult supervision or rules, their whole beings imbued with throbbing human life of the freshest sort.
I want to say to them: “But what about that girl who was so badly bullied her nerves did not recover, or the one who broke her leg and her heart on the same day? What of that boy who went off ruinously with a stranger, what of the friend of the friend who one summer simply never came back?”
Why were the parents not taking care of their children? What were they thinking? They weren’t thinking.
Surely, it is better to be draped in blankets eating soup at home in front of a nice musical. Oh, the great indoors, the electric fire, pastry, upholstery, aprons, steamed-up windows, chatting, dressing gowns, the curtains drawn.
And, you cannot say it’s boring because flashing on the horizon – like a gorgeous blinking beacon – there is Christmas, when it’s our duty to go mad. Perhaps that’s what I’m saving up for …
Staving off even one small hazard, I hear myself reason, is much more important than having fun. Surely?
No one I know agrees with me. But they’re very kind. “You know, her mother sailed round the world on a cargo ship with five children, almost single-handedly,” a fellow mentions, speaking of me and shaking his head. Someone else nods reassuringly. “Don’t be alarmed. I’m sure it’s just a crazy phase she’s going through.”
More columns at www.ft.com/boyt