Are you an optimist…or a wallower?
Thursday, 12 June 2014

Are you an optimist…or a wallower?

You can’t ALWAYS be jolly around friends and neighbours, says VG Lee. For many of us, there’s nothing like an occasional dose of good old-fashioned self-pity

Written by VG Lee
My neighbour Ted and I weren’t speaking. He said he’s had enough of being told to ‘seize the day’, while I’d had enough of him wallowing in self-pity.

Our falling-out had been triggered by the temperature topping 22 degrees centigrade. All I’d said was, ‘Ted, why the devil are you wearing thick socks with your sandals in this heat?’

Ted responded that he found the sight of his ageing feet unacceptable. I counter-responded with an encouraging, ‘I’m sure Pablo Picasso wasn’t bothered by ageing feet and he lived into his 90s.’ Ted counter-counter responded with a loud, ‘I am not Pablo Picasso! Just this once, can you keep your opinions to yourself?’

We then retired into our respective kitchens, closing the doors sharply on the early summer sunshine.

I decided to share this neighbours’ tiff with old friend Deirdre who is capable of much wisdom when not banging on about feng shui, hard landscaping, and Monty Don – who she insists is the only man she could have ever married.

‘Your constant cheerfulness can be annoying,’ she said switching on her state-of-the-art kettle, which is ingeniously designed to look exactly like a kettle. ‘Have you ever considered just letting your friends work through their unhappiness in their own time?’

‘But Ted’s always miserable about something: his brassicas are either wilting, bolting, being pecked by birds, eaten by snails or sat on by badgers. His cat Dylan is always under his feet and a bloody nuisance, or gone missing.’ 

Deirdre smiled fondly. ‘But that’s Ted for you.’

‘So I should just leave him to swelter in the heat?’

‘If Ted wants to wear an Afghan coat and fur-lined boots all summer, that’s his decision. The real problem is that he’s unhappy about getting older.’

‘We’re all unhappy about getting older.’

Carrying the tea tray, I followed her out into the garden. Deirdre disappeared into her shed (sorry Deirdre – outside living-work space) and emerged with a couple of canvas loungers, plus footstool for the tray.

‘We can’t use the hardwood table and chairs. I revarnished them yesterday and they’re still sticky.’

‘It’s the humidity,’ I said. ‘They’ll dry in no time once we’re over this hot spell.’

She poured the tea. ‘And what happens if they never dry?’

‘Trust me, Deirdre, varnish always dries eventually.’

‘You don’t know jack squat about varnish,’ she said. ‘Homemade blueberry muffin?’

‘I’ve never heard you use that phrase before.’

‘Ted lent me his urban dictionary.’

I felt just a little wrong-footed. What was Ted doing with an urban dictionary? I bit into Deirdre’s muffin. Dry! Had it been shop-bought I might have made a complaint.

In silence we sipped our tea – Earl Grey, which Deirdre knows I dislike. Morosely I considered that if Ted had been with us, she would have used Tetley tea bags, probably said something gushy like, ‘Just the way you like it, Ted. Strong enough to stand your teaspoon up in.’

He’d have given her one of his approving grizzled smiles, ‘Oh, they broke the mould when they made you, Deirdre.’

VG-Lee-Jun13-00-Quote-590

However, sipping weak tea and observing the clump of electric blue delphiniums framing Deirdre’s sticky patio set gave me time to re-group. Should I try a different tactic with Ted? Dig out some thick socks of my own and team them with my new Clarks sandals?

‘Ted, I find my ageing feet unacceptable.’

Were my feet unacceptable? I studied my knees peeking out from the hem of my cut-offs. Were they unacceptable? Was I living in cloud cuckoo land exposing my face and limbs when really I should be attired from head to foot in a bee-keeping outfit?

Deirdre kicked off her shoes and waggled her plump tanned feet. Each toenail was painted a different colour.

‘When did you do that?’ I asked.

‘The other evening. I was a bit down. Time passing. A major birthday coming up.’

‘Deirdre, I will always be two years older than you. Doesn’t that make you feel better?’

‘You’re doing it again.’

‘But it’s true. I shall probably go first.’ My eyes filled with tears at the thought. (Deirdre, by my bedside, trying to tempt me with a teaspoon of banana yoghurt. “Come on, Val. Make an effort. Remember you’ll always be several years younger than Ted.”)

‘I allowed myself to be miserable,’ Deirdre continued.

‘You should have telephoned.’

‘I didn’t want you telling me that Grandma Moses didn’t start painting till she was in her 70s.’

I sat forward. ‘Really? As late as that?’ I made a mental note to make a written note about Grandma Moses when I got home. I also crushed down a tiny flicker of resentment that Deirdre hadn’t queried my remark about ‘going first’.

‘I poured a glass of wine,’ she continued. ‘Looked through some old photograph albums. You know, we weren’t bad-looking when we were young.’

‘Deirdre, I’m about to start crying.’

‘I told myself, I’ve had my time and enjoyed it.’ Deirdre dabbed the corner of one eye with a paper serviette.

‘We’ve got decades more time to enjoy!’

She sniffed.

‘Are you annoying someone else?’ Ted’s disembodied voice came from the other side of the fence.

Barefooted, Deirdre ran lightly across her patio and unlocked the back gate.

In came Ted wearing a panama hat, white collarless shirt, cream linen trousers, sandals – no socks. He caught my eye.

‘My feet were hot. Okay, clever clogs?’

Always You, Edina, by VG Lee, is published by Ward Wood Publishing, priced £9.99.


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