A question was posed in the pub on Friday evening. It was the one of those rare spontaneous evenings where an unexpected babysitter lead to a last minute decision to head to Soho for drinks that taste much better and work much faster for the simple lack of organisation that went into them.
Anyway, in this gin-fuelled hedonism granted by a small space on the heaving pavements of Dean Street, my husband posed the question. Who do you want to be? Not what – which is essentially a career question, and one that he knows me well enough not to approach even with an extremely long barge pole. How many caveats, excuses, angry accusations, guilty denials and general despondency can one question inspire? The ‘what’ question is tainted for ever now with the echoes of school bells and after-taste of petit filous, let alone the shadows of the glass ceiling and a four-year CV gap.
So it was ‘who’ that was questioned. And not one of us (we had a couple of other over-excited escapee parents with us) could answer without turning it in to a huge joke. Hardly appropriate considering the gravity of the question. Hardly surprising considering the inappropriateness of the timing of the gravitas question.
Years ago, I was on a uni coach trip to Amsterdam, and we were playing games to entertain ourselves in anticipation of the main event. One game involved someone asking questions to everyone else in order to guess which one of us we had chosen to be ‘it’. The questions had to be of the ‘what type of song would this person be’ variety, and I was asked what item of clothing ‘this person’ would be. It so happened that I was ‘this person’, so my answer was ‘a big baggy cardi’.
Only you would ever describe you as a big baggy cardi, so the game was over fairly quickly and awkwardly at that point.
And the embarrassment of my completely exposed lack of aesthetic pride still haunts me, particularly because it also exposed my clear lack of inner belief. Why couldn’t I think of one nice thing to say about myself out loud? I knew there were better things about myself than my penchant for shapeless knitwear. I knew it, but I didn’t believe it enough to vocalise. And that was when I was young and thin, and life’s boundaries were self-imposed. Now I’m not-so, and life’s boundaries are super-imposed. And life is richer, but the ‘who’ question still inspires a knitwear-based response. Maybe it’s now a cashmere one, but there’s not much extra self-confidence woven into the stitching.
How is it possible that almost 20 years later I can’t answer the ‘who’ question because I know that the list of things I think need changing is essentially pathetic. You can’t get to 38 (bloody hell, 38) and be entirely disappointed in yourself. I like myself a lot actually, but I would never admit that to anyone. Mainly because I assume that all they see in me are the few things that will always be unattractive or unnecessary.
So, who I’d like to be: someone who could name an item of clothing that they both liked and could honestly associate themselves with. I’d also really like to be someone who doesn’t worry that they might have said something a bit rubbish in 1992.