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Where do I start?

September 17, 2020

Oh, crap. A reply arrived just as I was about to head out the door for a rehearsal. At first, quick glance it seemed a bit verbose, but generally okay. When I got home and read it properly, not so much.

Where do I start?

I guess with the first question. He couldn’t pick one all time favourite film, but offered up a selection, including Godfather 1 and 2, Pulp Fiction and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Okay, I guess. I have a soft spot for Butch Cassidy myself.

Things started going tits up with the second question. Worst fear confirmed. He doesn’t have a favourite novelist because he doesn’t read novels. Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. He does read a lot, he says, but more for information gathering than entertainment. This is not good.

Favourite band when he was twelve? The Beatles. He’s only three years younger than me, so that was probably a no brainer.

He couldn’t remember which CD he listened to last (because he only listens to actual CDs in his old car – at home he streams music), but it was either Santana or Sade. Okay. Could have been Nickelback.

The fantasy dinner party guest list started well with Barack Obama. It went on to include Steven Spielberg, Plato, Chris Hatfield and Ernest Hemingway.

Okay, let’s do a couple of sidebars here.

The first new mate I made when I went back to London in 2001 was a bloke I met in the Palm Tree, my local. There were two things that initially bonded us: our love of West Wing and our absolute detestation of Ernest Hemingway.

When the Bad Girls Book Club started up in early 2016 and we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing, we relied entirely on what book club sets were readily available from the local library. The first book we all read was Harriet the Spy (no, I’m not kidding), the second was Timothy Findlay’s Not Wanted on the Voyage, which was a lovely read. Our third selection was The Paris Wife, a novel about Hemingway’s first wife. For some reason we thought it would be pretty scathing about old Ernie, whom we all hated. Au contraire. Not only was it written like a Mills and Boon or Harlequin romance, it also completely failed to evoke the time and place. (There was one scene that took place in a bar in Montparnasse, which I know for a fact had been frequented by a number of impoverished – and subsequently quite famous – Impressionist painters, who paid off their bar tabs by painting murals on the walls. Is there any mention in the novel of these amazing murals? No, there is not.) And both the wife and the author completely let Hemingway off the hook for being a total asshole. It was early days with the book club and we’d yet to decide that if you really hated a novel you didn’t have to finish it. Had we been at that stage, none of us would have forced ourselves through this drivel.

So, as you can probably guess, seeing Hemingway’s name on the fantasy dinner party list wiped out initial bonus marks for Obama.

Best Bond? Connery. Fine. Best Doctor Who? He’s only seen the show since its relaunch in 2005, but picked David Tennant. Fine.

Let’s go back to that dinner party. If you’re paying attention, you might remember that the invite list was to include six guests, living or dead, and I’ve only included five.

The full list was “Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg, Plato, Ernest Hemingway, Chris Hatfield and you”. With a further comment that: “Other than Barack Obama and you, that took some serious thought.” I read that and thought eww, as in eww, that’s a bit creepy. When I rang a friend later to talk about this message and I mentioned my inclusion in the dinner party list, her immediate reaction was “eww”, although in her case it was more eww, that’s quite smarmy. I guess that’s a better word. Still, it did creep me out. And I told her how glad I was that her immediate reaction had been the same as mine. (In case anyone’s wondering, that is actually how that instinctive noise of distaste or revulsion is spelt. I had to check the dictionary.)

As I said to my friend, this guy is so flipping eager. He’s like a puppy. And at this point it would feel like kicking a puppy to say “thanks, but no thanks”, even though that is what my gut is telling me to do.

My friend asked a very good question. She asked what I thought my mother would want me to do. I had to think about that. After doing so I stated the obvious: If she’d wanted me to know about him, she would have told me. Then I remembered something Mum said to me when I was in my early twenties (or perhaps even late teens). I don’t remember the conversation that led to the remark, but I do clearly remembering her saying, “I don’t care what you do as long as it makes you happy.”

When I got off the phone with my friend, I went into the kitchen to start making dinner. Mum was still much on my mind. This smart, funny woman who brought me up. This woman with her biting wit.

And that’s when it hit me. There was absolutely no hint of that woman in this man. If there had been, would I have hesitated at all? I don’t think so. It’s clear to me from the pop quiz answers (honestly, who the hell doesn’t read novels?) and his original, too-much-information email that this is not someone who, if I met socially, I would want to get to know any better. What we have here, folks, is nurture winning over nature.

I am very much my mother’s daughter. This man is not his mother’s son.


Postscript: Wait a minute! If he doesn’t read novels, why the hell is bloody Hemingway on the fantasy dinner party guest list? If not his novels, what? His misogynistic, slaughtering-wild-game-for-sport lifestyle? Jeez.

From → Blog

  1. As I mentioned in a comment (that remains awaiting moderation?) on your earlier post, my older brother, one of my top favourite people, an interesting, intelligent, literate, funny man – and a librarian – doesn’t read novels. It happens. Though for sure he would come up with a much more interesting dinner party, perhaps including women…

  2. krysross permalink

    I too have met a couple of decent, moderately interesting people who don’t read novels. There are probably more out there, but usually, once I find that out, I don’t really care. I’m not sure what it signals to me–lack of curiosity, imagination, empathy?

    I’m curious whether he has expressed any interest in finding out what your (plural) mother was like. He said Plato, so I guess you didn’t limit the guest list to the living but I wonder she didn’t make the list. Other than Hemingway, the other guests should have gone a far way into easing any awkwardness.

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