Chris just wanted the simple things – a compatible life partner, a satisfying career, a healthy family … a happy life. But as time went on and age became a darkening cloud, it seemed as if the simple things weren’t simple in any way. The elements of adult life that Chris had, as a child, seen as staples were, in fact, as nebulous and hard to grasp as dreams lost to the cold light of reality. And The World wasn’t helping. The way it looked upon a person and sought definition in one way or another – not one way AND another – provided a major hurdle. Chris was beginning to think that before someone could even approach The Simple Things, they had to know who they were themselves. And that was where the real confusion began. An analysis over a week produced a perplexing number of Chrises for The World to reflect back with their own conclusions …MONDAY
I’m middle management. I am a boss but I have a boss. When I moved up from the lower tiers, I found it strange – still do – switching throughout the day from ‘being told’ to ‘telling’. One minute sorting out some petty dispute about workspaces, the next in the boardroom listening to a ‘big picture scenario’.
Telling. Being told.
Of course, there’s more to it all than that but often that’s what it boils down to – a ladder with the word descending from the top, passed down from one rung to the next. And as each sentence moves down, it becomes more specific, more mechanical. I’m just a middle rung. It’d still reach the bottom without me – and it might be less distorted when it did.
Janine’s the real boss. I know they’re thinking of moving me up when she retires but I’m nothing like her … I don’t have the confidence and composure that she has. So even though she tries to coach me through ‘leadership challenges’, I know that they’ll end up going for someone like Mike Connaught or that guy Tim who used to work in accounting who did triathlon on the weekends. They can talk a good game. I can’t do that. I know what I’m good at and what I’m not and I couldn’t bluff my way through life … wouldn’t want to. Some of my friends say that that’s my problem with the opposite sex – that dating’s not about brutal honesty … and the fact that I can’t seem to embellish or withhold in the way that coaxes interest is the reason that I’m single.
So here I am on this middle rung. It’s not the worst situation workwise but it’d be good to find someone beyond the office who didn’t play the game. Who wanted the simple things.
But maybe I wouldn’t find that sort of person attractive either.
When Lara was born, I was terrified. I mean, I was proud and happy but I wasn’t ready. I felt as if I didn’t have anything to offer a child and I knew nothing about babies. But she was mine so I had to look after her. I wanted to. But I was still terrified. She’s six now and I think I’m getting more used to that feeling – it’s like a numbness around all of my stupidity about being a parent. But I can make her laugh. Sometimes. And I can feed her and clothe her. And I can give her grandparents who seem a lot more relaxed than I am about taking care of her. I’d hoped that I’d feel more confident by now but the more she grows, the more things I see that I can’t control. And the more I wonder why they let just anyone become a parent. I don’t know what I’m doing and Lara always looks at me as if I supposed to.
I never imagined I’d be a single parent. I thought it’d be three of us … four probably. But it’s just two now. And I don’t know if I can keep her safe. Sometimes I want to close the doors and keep her inside until she’s grown and can make her own decisions because I know the ones that I make are just from desperation and hope. But I love her in a way I never thought I had in me. And if I can get her to adulthood, I know I’ll have done the best thing I’ll ever do.
I just like the way that words can be like a song – but not. (I’m definitely not a singer.) I like to write down things that aren’t just facts but something beyond what I see and hear.
But people don’t like feelings – not others peoples’ feelings. They baulk at emotion or, worse sometimes, they’re bored by it. They glaze and nod or flinch a little … so I write it down and keep it to myself. And I wouldn’t tell someone I met – a potential partner – because I know it’d put them off. They say they want to get to know you … but the y mean hobbies, music taste and food – they don’t mean feelings. So my poems are a part of me that no one knows about … and that seems sort of deceitful. But I know laying everything bare is the quickest way to send someone running. And poetry? Nothing says pathetic better than ‘unpublished poet’.
I started baking cakes when Lara was three. She’d wanted a caterpillar-shaped one for her birthday so I made cupcakes and, with green icing and licorice (to “make it one of those itchy ones”), it didn’t turn out too badly. Two years ago, I did a course (one of a series of attempts to ‘get out there’ and meet new people) and I was surprised that I liked making éclairs and mille-feuille. I knew that I liked eating them – even though I hadn’t known what a lot of them were called – but the way that I had to concentrate on the detail made me forget about other things. Enough that I realised, after a while, that I was relaxed. I was just thinking about something that didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things – intricate enough to occupy my brain … but without the stress that I can feel about work or solo parenting or finances. So I moved from petite fours to brioches to meringues and when my sister requested a Saint Honoré for her wedding anniversary (after a celebratory trip to Paris), I not only didn’t have to look it up, I just had to double the size of the recipe I’d already made twice before.
I don’t make a big thing of the baking, though. The family knows – because Lara and I couldn’t eat it all. But if I take anything in to work, they just assume I bought it or my sister made it … they eat and make sounds of satisfaction but they never ask me where it came from. I feel dishonest not telling them but I’d feel like I was bragging if I did. And most of them probably wouldn’t believe me. I suppose I don’t look like someone who knows the difference between a Delice Napoleon and a Chocolate Savoyard.
I’ve joined clubs, attended concerts, met friends of friends … but I remain a potential partner. I’ve heard the expression ‘a good catch’ so many times from friends that the intended compliment hangs on me like a ball and chain. People don’t seem to be looking for reliable and sensible. Can’t blame them, really. I am tarred with the bland brush, never intriguing or unique but a plain fish with no bite or unusual markings. Clearly not to the taste of those that are to my taste.
For a while, I was frustrated, then resigned. But now my feelings are lighter than that, less focused on some quest to find The One. I’m still looking but it’s just not a primary goal. Until I see those happy families with their laughter and ease … the ones that created those childish delusions that I keep thinking I’ve put to rest.
My Mum and Dad look after Lara if I’ve got a work function or a class. And they pop around on weekends to ‘do the garden’ even though I tell them I can pay someone to do it. (Or just not have it ‘done’ at all.) They say they like to feel useful … and Lara’s learning what a weed is (apparently it’s just a plant that you don’t want so my daughter has decreed that there is no such thing, as she likes ‘all growing things’).
I made a Pear Tarte Tatin for Mum’s knitting group Christmas party last year but that doesn’t seem to put a dent in what I owe her. You don’t notice what a siphon you have been on your parents’ lives until it’s too late to pay it back.
It’s supposed to be a friendly game in a Sunday league but it’s not mixed netball or touch football. You can’t be friendly in a scrum. I don’t think I get as focussed or aggressive as I used to but you have to lose your qualms – and any self-protection reflexes – to do the job.
It’s a good team – one or two friends from school but mostly just ageing rugby players who like to feel they haven’t totally lost it and attach some meaning to the nostalgic smell of sweat and the possession of a ball above all else. I get into that mindset when I’m there and then, through the week, I wonder how I’ll get it back again. It seems illogical. Then when we run on on Sunday, I’m with them. It’s all about that ball. And doing it for the team.
HOW CAN I BE ALL THESE THINGS? JUGGLE ALL THESE DIFFERENT MINDSETS FROM ONE PART OF MY LIFE TO ANOTHER? …