Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Sobranie Factor

"Our policy is one of continual improvement" - who said that?
At what stage did cotton buds become bog-standard, and long slender single-ended wooden ones become the thing? Or the shaped ones which are deliciously pointy and one end and flat/rounded on the other?

Loo paper here has become so flowery and embossed that I have to HUNT for plain. At least there aren't colours any more.

I can buy wonderfully long, sturdy matches to light candles or fires, and in coloured boxes, with coloured match-heads too, as well as the usual red-headed brittle kitchen kind. I have a weakness for designer matches.

I seem to be exercised by the tension between the generic, my ideal, and the seduction of novelty or refinement. I have given in on bedding, after a lifetime of yearning towards and getting plainest white linen, wearing it out, (I had thought linen lasted a lifetime) and then deciding in my vain days that coloured sheets didn't show fake tan. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

So easy to digress.

Refinements are delightful if they don't get too convoluted. My dear neighbour Mary decorates her whole house for Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, and I am silently appalled by all that effort and expense even as I acknowledge there is a graciousness in her celebrations. I am not capable of it, does that mean I should be grudging? I love my friend June's gift of ceremony and have adopted some of it - the lighting of the fire, the candles, the appreciation of it all - or Sheila's scrupulous attention to the balance of fresh air and warmth, and always beautiful flowers for the sake of the soul. Grace notes which in my utilitarianism I tend to lack.

In essence I am always trying to get back to source, but this virtue is alloyed by excessive thrift, not to say downright meanness. I have been polarised by long association with Stefan's aristocratic fecklessness, which terrifies me no matter what our circumstances. As the child of a Scot and a Yorkshireman, what can I expect? I can see it in my siblings too.

The upside is that I tend to get good value; the downside is more troubling - did I grind the faces of the poor when I was in a position of power? I have a shameful feeling I did.

So I come back to the idea of a balance between grace and generosity on the one hand, and simplicity and pleasing discipline on the other. I remind myself again to look for the essence, not the manifestation, and to be aware of the downside of seeming virtues. Beware what you pride yourself on.


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