Do you ever find yourself going back over conversations and inserting the reply you should have made, rather than the one you actually made?
I just wish I’d been ruder – so much ruder, since in the majority of cases it wouldn’t actually have made me less popular. I’m a bit of an acquired taste in any case. Fortunately throughout my life one or two people at a time have thought I was worth acquiring.
In fact I almost wish I had been violent, but it’s too late now.
The only time I was violent to a non-family-member, that I can recall, was one day coming down the hill from school. I’d have been about thirteen or fourteen. Most of my days at school were pretty stressful. I usually ended up with a headache going home on the train. And yet often I didn’t want to get to the station because that would mean I was only ten minutes away from walking in through the front door of my parents bungalow – more stress. Instant accusations.
So this day I was walking down the hill towards the station. (This wasn’t the day I dropped the pink blancmange in the school driveway and all the teachers drove through it, by the way.) And I’d had this really bad day. And we had to wear these ludicrous air-force blue felt bowler hats as part of our uniform. And we weren’t allowed to take off any item of uniform until we got home, no matter how hot it was or how uncomfortable we felt, because all the while we were visible we were Representatives of the School.
And there was this child in front of one of the terraced houses. It was sitting on a wall – not the little low part in the middle but one of the two tall tower bits at the end – the bits that held the gate.
And I kind of knew this child was planning to do something – I don’t know why. I don’t remember any particular expression on its face – in fact, perhaps that was it – it looked just too expressionless.
And as I went past the child swiped at my hat and knocked it off. And in almost the same instant, as I bent my headache-filled head to retrieve the horrid bowler, I saw red. As I dealt this child a silent, adult-force blow, whether with blue felt hat or the flat of my hand I can’t remember, tipping it off its concrete perch into its weedy front garden I understood how unpremeditated murders could happen.
As far as words are concerned, don’t you just wish the right phrase would flow from your lips in those emotional moments?
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn…
One situation I have never found the right words for:
I was working at the Council as a word-processor operator. I got something wrong and the team-leader ordered me to do this thing where you insert and reinsert a document into a manual typewriter, trying to line up a single letter on the document up with the precise spot where the same-letter key will strike, and somehow or other strike a delete over it. The most skilful operative, even the supervisor herself, I suspect, would have stood but a vanishingly small chance of lining those two particular letters up on the roller by eye.
In any sensible universe the document – by this time more crumpled, spoiled and tear-stained than it had started out – would have been ditched and started again. A fast typist, I could have completed an entire tape of urgent correspondence in the time I was being compelled to waste, attempting the impossible. But of course she knew that. Dad once told me that in the army, to break their spirits, new recruits were forced to shovel a huge heap of coal from point A to point B. Having done that, they were forced to move it back again. Having done that, they were forced to whitewash the heap of coal.
After what seemed like several hours of trying, by which time sweat was dripping from my brow and my hands were shaking so much I could hardly get the paper into the typewriter, I went to her and told her I had tried really, really hard but just couldn’t manage to do it. She then accused me of having a Bad Attitude and No Team Spirit. I have no idea what I actually said. It involved apologies and abject mumbling and wasn’t, as it should probably have been, Frankly, my dear I don’t give a damn…
And then there was the new colleague at the university – actually a much-beloved and welcomed old colleague from before my time, returning to work after a period of illness. For some reason I mentioned ironing and she swept me with her lofty, on-a-higher-plane, planet-saver gaze before witheringly informed me that ironing was a waste of precious electricity; if a garment was properly hung or folded it would lose its creases within a very short time – anyone who knew anything about environmental science would have know that. The poor woman had something like MS but temporarily in remission. It didn’t seem right to answer someone back, them being mortally sick an’ all.
But I was thinking today what I should have replied, mortal illness or no. I was trying out my answering riposte as I made the bed. What I should have said was: How can you live with yourself, being so very smug and self-righteous?
Is there any riposte you’d like to rewrite?