Friday, 27 March 2009
MEDITATIONS IN AN EMERGENCY
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.
It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
From Frank O'Hara 'Mayakovsky' published in Meditations in an Emergency
NB: I fell in love with the poetry of Frank O'Hara many years ago, and stupidly forgot all about him until I was watching Mad Men a few weeks ago, since when I've unearthed my copy and been reading and re-reading: as I've just written on Tania's blog, I was trying to write a post about my father, who is very ill, and found I couldn't and all I had left were these beautiful lines.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
VANITY OF VANITIES
I've been gloaming round with a face like a wet weekend, deep in the midst of a Scandi-depression. It's much like normal depression, except it comes with modular furniture and a fitted kitchen: Faktum exterior, with IrRationell interior monologues. I've lamented the parlous state of the economy in general and my finances in particular, executioners guilt at work, the ghastliness of an untidy house, the way one can't get the staff these days. I've quite wailed myself into a corner. I've evolved from simple solipsist into a philosophical zombie.
But is my life really directed by Ingmar Bergman, with a script by Strindberg and additional dialogue by Schopenhauer? Erm, I don't think so. It might just be time to give myself a shake and snap out of it. Wailing Verboten. Absolument interdit. Banished back to wherever it is wailing banshees come from.
Spring poking its optimistic head through the dead earth has helped add a little cheer, but really, there's nothing like the idea of a party to perk up Mrs Trefusis. And I have not one, but two parties to go to tonight. Yippee. As I write, I'm looking at the invitations, enticingly engraved on board so thick I can't even bend it: They could stand up on their own on the mantelpiece, if only I had one. The first is to Esquire's Beat the Bleak cocktail party, and the second to a Fabulous Moet Celebration: A Tribute To Cinema, at which the new celebrity 'face' of Moet will be revealed, and where much champagne will be drunk by seriously glamorous looking people.
I confess, since the invitations arrived when I was deep in the slough of despond - the only time in my life go anywhere near Slough - they didn't meet with unalloyed delight. The ungrateful, petulant, unbelievably spoilt child in me immediately started complaining: Gah, I grumbled, what am I supposed to wear? How can a single outfit take one from cocktails to 'Red Carpet' glamour, for such is the Moet & Chandon dress code? What am I to do about a dress of any kind, since calling something in from a pet fashion PR is off-limits, now that the misery eating has knocked the 's' off sample size. And then there's the depilation of legs and application of copious amounts of fake tan. Not to mention the pedicure and manicure and up-do and make-up and the fact that fabulous Graham* has swanned off to Southern Africa and isn't available to treat me to his usual hair-fabulousness (see profile picture for just one example of his amazing rug re-thinking talents).
And then I thought, Mrs Trefusis: you have become impossibly ungrateful and deserving of an emormous slap. Or detention. Or worse. Go directly to jail. Do not collect two hundred pounds. You have a wardrobe full of beautiful dresses that can work perfectly well for two-centre partying and you can adequately apply varnish to your own toes and probably even conjure up something halfway convincing in the hair department with the aid of a can of Elnett and some carmen rollers. Most people would give their eye-teeth to be in a position to have lovely invitations like this. And as my mother always used to say, 'You'll enjoy it once you get there'. I shall loiter as elegantly as I can, trying not to spill martinis and Moet down the vintage English Eccentrics frock, whilst surreptitiously taking pictures of famous folk on my iPhone.
By God, I shall go to the ball. Get thee gone, Ingmar - it's all Busby Berkeley and Grace Kelly in High Society from here on in.
And by the time Mr Trefusis discovers I've used his razor rather than the evil epilator to shave my legs, I'll be miles down the Westway in a lovely taxi.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
MADAME SOSOSTRIS, FAMOUS CLAIRVOYANTE
I don't have a bad cold and nor am I the wisest woman in Europe, but I am considering reviving my sideline in casting horoscopes and reading the Tarot. Or tealeaves, being a very customer-focused kind of person. You name your preferred divination method and I'll try to oblige.
In truth, I'm on the hunt for new money making schemes so I can finance the luxury lifestyle to which I've become accustomed.
Now that the economy has contracted, I can no longer afford those little consolations of Mrs Trefusis. The tiny treats that made life seem so much lovelier are now irritatingly not only way out of reach, but also way down the list after the ghastly dull oven and the just-kill-me-I'm-so-bored-thinking-about-it washing up machine. The sheer enjoyment of looking and feeling good seems to have become the subject of extreme recessionary disapproval. But as we plunge from recession into depression, the economy merely operates as a metaphor for my mood.
I started this blog as an alternative to seeing a wincingly expensive Bond Street psychoanalyist, with the realisation that if the thought of new shoes was infinitely more cheering than having my head-shrunk, I was feeling rather better. To borrow from Linda Grant in The Thoughtful Dresser, "If I were heading into the Great Depression, I wanted to arrive there well-dressed". But now that the world is in economic depression, I can neither afford to be so well-dressed, nor therapy, nor new shoes, nor any of the other bibelots that formed a cossetting palisade between me and the tenebrous, liminal places in my head.
But I am at heart a pragmatist. If I can't learn not to rely on these things to shore me up against my ruin, I will have to find new ways to fund their purchase.
I considered following in the footsteps of the Catholic church and selling saints fingers as relics (as tipped off by Jaywalker, though Cardinal Newman apparently had the last laugh) until it was pointed out to me that this was simony and would result in immediate excommunication followed by hellfire for all eternity. Nice. A little trip back through Dante* reminded me that any experience I had - however distant - of fortune-telling automatically relegated me to Circle 8 along with the simonists anyway, and since the start-up costs of selling 'relics' might require hard cash, my pecuniary interests have led me to reconsider dabbling in a spot of astrometry.
Once upon a time, before the children came along, I wrote horoscopes for a magazine, alongside the usual day job. And having spent several years training with The Company of Astrologers, I'm no end of the pier fortune-teller. I have my credentials, and I'm quite sure that in these uncertain times there's a market for it: I simply need to find my customers.
It might take several horoscope castings to collect enough cash for shoes though I rather think a tarot reading would get me the price of a blow-dry.
I've had a lifelong struggle trying to settle on what Aristotle called The Golden Mean. Will this latest wheeze help turn me into a happy medium?
*take the Dante's Inferno quiz for yourself and find out where you're headed.
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Everything has broken chez Trefusis. As if in an attempt to test the Vatican's theory about women's liberation, the washing machine, the dishwasher and the oven have all gone haywire, either shorting the electricity or cremating the food.
None of these is worth repairing. It's new ones or nothing.
I somehow feel that irritating doppelgänger, the Angel in the House, is behind all this: bored with waging her war of attrition, she's upped the stakes, and by breaking all the appliances is attempting to break me too.
Too late. I am already broken.
And in truth, it's neither the fact I can't afford to replace the broken appliances nor the machinations of an unwillingly perfectionist super-ego that has fractured the cracked china cup of my life.
What has broken me beyond the ministrations of a super-glue wielding Mr Trefusis is survivors guilt. We learned last week that The Company was implementing a series of measures designed to reduce its cost base in the face of unprecedented economic challenges to the business. Redundancies are necessary. In practise, this means that one in seven of us must go. I am not amongst them, but I've had to take people I hold dear through what seems like the cruellest and most byzantine consultation process. It's not over. It's taking weeks. I feel like Oscar Wilde killing the things I love, cowardly, with a kiss, when a brutal yet mercifully swift swipe with a sword would be kinder. If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. But I have to follow a legal framework and hold it together throughout, all the while knowing it's me who's here in double trust. They look at me with their big eyes like so many trusting baby seals, waiting for me to seize the corporate cudgel.
But I have to wait. I am duty bound to do it by the bureaucratic book. I gave up on the Kafka: life was already imitating art enough to make its reading unbearable.
And in the meantime, we're working away with strained, white faces, talking to each other about everything except the subject that preoccupies our insomniac hours. Where once we felt ourselves at the coalface, now we're at the pithead after a mining disaster, waiting for the bodies to be brought up and identified. Asking ourselves how much longer they can dig through the rubble.
It will get better. It's a mantra I keep repeating to myself as I force myself to function in a way that looks half competent. And wonder if it's being done this way pour encourager les autres. One has to put a good face on economic armageddon, in case one is next, in the mistaken belief that it's harder to get rid of people who look like they have solutions.
At home, it's a blessed relief to be distracted by drudgery. Maybe I'm saving money on electricity? Going to the launderette is a very levelling experience. The family has eaten nothing but risotto, pasta or things that can be cooked in a saucepan for over a week. Washing up by hand reminds one of what one takes for granted.
In this climate, I should be grateful that making do is, if not quite a choice, is at least not an absolute necessity.
Thursday, 5 March 2009
KILLING THE ANGEL IN THE HOUSE (2)
I woke up this morning fighting my way out from the duvet, still locked in a suffocating dream in which I was crushed under a mountainous heap of laundry, with only my Louboutin-clad feet sticking out like the Wicked Witch of the East. True, it made quite a change from my current recurring nightmare, in which all the hopes of my company rescuing itself from the brink of financial disaster rest solely on my shoulders. I guess I should be grateful for any kind of dream at all, since even my unconscious collapses into an exhausted heap at the end of the day and can't be bothered to serve anything up for me to analyse on the tube into work, Jungian textbook in hand.
Anyway, having fretted all week about the difficult circumstances in which Modern Woman finds herself, I find I have the answer: there is no miracle that can't be worked if one is knee deep in staff. Unfortunately, one also has to be knee deep in cash for this to be an option, but it's an answer of sorts. My real issue is that Nature abhors a vacuum and so do I. The straw that breaks this camel's back is always housework. When I think of dust I immediately think of Philip Pullman, or even Eliot, rather than the ghastliness that lurks under the bed and the sofa and on every surface. Divine VW would never have contemplated starching Leonard's collars. I can't see her ever having a meltdown over the Hogarth presses about his inability to move a coffee cup from sitting room to sink, or a trauma about repatriating socks and pants with laundry basket. Her marvellousness was entirely predicated on armies of people 'below stairs'. So I am convinced I'm living a century too late. I should have been a nice Edwardian lady with suffragette leanings, much in the manner of the mother in Mary Poppins: Chicly campaigning in a costume of green and purple without having to involve oneself with anything ghastly like force feeding or the King's racehorse. On reflection a spot of elegant marching or a little light chaining to the railings of the Houses of Parliament might have been possible. I would have been sustained in any attendant creative endeavours by an army of loveliness. Think how blissful it would be to have someone to do the washing and the shopping and to remember to put food on the table at regular intervals. All these things appear to be beyond me. But if there was a collection of willing helpmeets, imagine how much fabulousness I'd be able to radiate, and how many bon mots I'd be able to offer, and how delighted Mr Trefusis and I would be to see each other every evening instead of snarling in a way that's only ever really mitigated by the consumption of vast amounts of wine. Yes. It all comes down to The Servant Question.
And here I am, struggling womanfully through a life that resembles a king size duvet inside a cot bed cover, horribly peeved at the injustice of being too poor to have a housekeeper, a nanny and hot and cold running maids in every room. I have a reputation for competence at work completely belied by my domestic situation, in which the entire family is often faced with a total lack of matching socks and an absence of essentials like milk, cereal and lavatory paper. My only saving grace is our proximity to the Co-op.
In truth, I do have 'help'. I have a cleaning lady for what is supposed to be three and a half hours a week, though judging by the evidence I can only think that the cleaning takes her half an hour and she spends the rest lying on the chaise longue eating violet creams. But she speaks no english, and I'm unable to offer her any written or spoken instruction. The best I can hope for is that she intuits what needs doing around the house. Mostly she intuits that the orchids need rearranging, and that the bears in Hunca Munca's cot could be more agreeably positioned, happily ignoring the snowdrift of dust and fluff that has built up behind every door and on the bookshelves. The house is marginally tidier when she's been, but certainly no cleaner.
And this is why I'm writing this post at six minutes to midnight, with dirty dishes still stacked in the sink, the last load of washing still unhung, a dusting of ground cocopops underfoot unswept up from breakfast yesterday, Kafka still languishing on the side unread, and another week wading through the blood on the office carpet looming ahead of me.
On second thoughts, what I actually need is a wife.
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