Someone asked me recently about something a British person said that seemed to them, stupidly understated. It brought to mind the British brilliance for understatement, how both soothing and funny it is. It reminded me of when James May of Top Gear went to Iceland to visit an active volanco. He drove up the side of the erupting volcano and stopped, his challenge - to collect a piece of rock/lava with a garden trowel taped to a pole and a metal bucket. The volcano was spewing violently hot lava and James commented, “Oh, it’s getting a bit frisky.” That’s understatement. That’s British.
(If you would like to view the aforementioned scene, follow the link.)
From Debretts: (A listing of the ‘special people.’)
“The stiff upper lip is underpinned by understatement, a very British way of speaking, which resolutely refuses to succumb to drama, excitement, or high emotion.
Sometimes British understatement is undeniably humorous: a famous example is the Monty Python sketch where the Grim Reaper turns up at a suburban dinner party and insists that all the guests accompany him. “Well”, one of the party guests remarks, “that’s cast rather a gloom over the evening hasn’t it?”
But understatement isn’t always deployed to raise a laugh, it permeates British speech. Conversation is littered with moderating expressions, such as ‘quite’, ‘rather’, ‘a bit’, ‘actually’. ‘Not bad’ is high praise, and ‘not bad at all’ is positively euphoric.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in talk about the weather: ‘a bit nippy’ is considered an appropriate description of sub-zero temperatures, ‘rather damp’ describes a monsoonal downpour.
Don’t confuse understatement with under-reaction - read between the lines and you’ll find the missing drama and emotion.”
Some people buy a beautiful new dress, others a bottle of nice wine but I wonder what Sigmund would say about my recent purchase - a Sigmund Freud Action Figure. He’s about five inches high, in a grey suit with deeply creased trousers and holding a cigar. There’s not much action in this figure, his arms being the only thing that bend. The Father of Psychoanalysis was born on May 6, 1856 in what is now the Czech Republic. Although some believe that Freud’s explanations of human behaviour rely too heavily on sex, where woud modern society be without the Freudiean concepts of id, ego the Oedipus complex, and penis envy. As it says on the package that my little Freud comes in,”What would life be like if a cigar was just a cigar.”
Only 3 minutes of your life to be captivated, enlightened, amused and provoked by the brilliant Nathan Gibbs. For anyone who loves colour of all kinds, crayon or otherwise, this is for you.
“Crayola Monologues (2003) uses the crayon as a human metaphor for exploring color and identity in the United States. This animated video features crayons expressing how color hierarchies have shaped their lives. These crayons live in a world much like our own, complete with prejudice, class boundaries, social hierarchies and those who fall between the lines. Crayola Monologues also reveals the politics behind Crayola label changes, and gives a voice to the previously unheard perspective of crayons.”
I think life, the best part of it anyway, is about what you find when you’re not looking. I was looking for the colour Prussian blue. The why does not matter, what is interesting is what I found. I found this awesome crayon, the sort of colour I would buy a whole box of crayons for just to get this one, when I was younger. What a glorious, heavenly colour! But wait, the political correctoes have been in and taken away just a bit of the colour, the colour of its name and it’s now called midnight blue. Sigh….
It’s not all dire blandness I’m delighted to say because clicking on a link I was taken to the Crayola Monologues, a brilliant short film (3mins) by Nathan Gibbs. He uses crayons as a metaphor for exploring colour and identity in the United States. I am posting the video but if you are impatient and cannot wait, just click on the link. Look what I found when I wasn’t looking!
Hello to my sister in bucking the trend, the lovely and wonderfull Miss Sardonic! Thanks for your post about handbags (purses) - I am in full agreement. I made comment that men have been accused of choosing cars that are extensions of their manhood and now I ask this - are women any different? Are handbags and shoes not expressions of their intimate femininity? I wonder if Sigmund ever pondered this one, they didn’t have Jimmy Choo in his day though…This is my handbag, not much bigger than my palm as you can see. It holds all I need; credit/debit cards, phone, keys, lip balm, lipstick on the rare occasions I wear it, a teeney perfume atomiser, some receipts that have accumulated, tweezers, a plaster (bandaid) and headache tablet, should it be needed. There is room to add a bit more also. Personally, this item is utilitarian for me, it serves a purpose. I like this bag because it tucks nicely under my arm, does not make me feel encumbered at all and is never too heavy. How do you women cope with lugging these attractive anvils around? So, from Miss Sardonic and I, don’t project any part of your identity into these things. Why? What happens if they are lost, stolen or you lose it all - who are you then?
“othernotebooksareavailable” has got me thinking about nationality and identity, echoing a chat I had with “tinkdink” this week. It’s true, nationality, the place you identify with is so much more than simply the place you were born. Any nation is also much more than iconic images (even this beautiful one of the gorse framed foreground with Eilean Donan Castle) - both are a state of mind. As I said to “tindink” I feel Scottish but I am also a citizen of myself.”
“It isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation.”
“Mr Ahmad was born in India, he had no Scottish ancestors. Yet he was 100% Scottish. David Cameron has Scottish ancestry, but he’s not Scottish at all. Scottishness is a state of mind. “
(For those that have gotten this far and are feeling cheated, not remotely interested in nationality or identity, how about this: Eilean Donan Castle is the most photographed castle in the world. It is the clan seat of the MacRaes, their motto being ‘Fortitude’. This is taken on the road to the isles, need I tell you, just a stones throw, with a supernaturally long arm, from the Isle of Skye. The plants you see in the foreground are thistle, bracken (fern) and gorse. Gorse grows wild, loves the wet hilly ground and smells like coconut.)
Friday a strange wind was blowing, both exhilarating and stirring somehow, a wind that took me, the Boy and his friend to a favourite restaurant. Our South American waitress was a beautiful and vivacious lady, with music in her every word. She was not having a very good day though and it showed in her service. Although I am fast gaining a reputation for being outspoken on the subject of injustice, this day, I was the soul of patience. It became clear that this lovely woman thought I was a lesbian, clear in the way she laid her warm hand on mine, smiled at me, her gaze direct and intimate and crystal clear when she hugged and kissed me, gave me a bag of cookies when I left. Somehow, I found myself in a box.
I am not a lesbian. It would not shame me if I was but would certainly complicate my relationship with Himself. I took her attention as the compliment it was and was very happy to accept her cookies, we all enjoyed those. I get this a lot though, mistaken identity. Not too long ago, I was the recipient of a free book, from a large and well-known bookstore, due to the same mistaken identity. The book I was especially happy to be given, being written on a subject I am interested in, Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare. It is a glimpse into their interesting relationship, platonic in nature and of mutual benefit. I imagine that Shakespeare must have speculated about his monarch’s sexuality, as she was a woman who made her own mould. The young woman of the bookstore was kind, helpful and very engaging, passionate about books but perhaps more.
My passions are many but are not expressed in Sapphic relationships and it has long been a puzzle as to why I am seen this way, until recently. I know that everyone, no matter how open minded and keen not to judge the proverbial book by it’s cover, does. Some would argue that this is essential, this quick assessment of people. It’s worth considering that it helps us organise a vast body of sensory information relating to people, warns us of potential dangers (ie; friend or foe) and is very useful, perhaps, in determining the relative strengths of a mate. Experience has taught me to be more of a, “take a quick visual / character snapshot but be prepared to modify that image” person.
I fear many people are not like this though, many sorting you at hyper speed into whatever box they deem you suited, never to be re-sorted. Clearly, I am being put in the lesbian box. So, what is a lesbian? That does sound ridiculous doesn’t it? Let me put it another way, what do I have in common with Ellen de Generes, Meredith Baxter, Eleanor Roosevelt and KD Lang? I am just guessing now, but I think expressing your own idea of femininity or womanhood, being unafraid to show strength and possibly having short hair has something to do with it. If this is the shoe, then I have to admit that it fits and I do wear it. As I said at the start, I don’t mind this particular label, as I am comfortable with my identity. If there is a problem, it is in the very nature of the boxes we are put, and do put others in. A box is limiting, does not have space for variation, and does not allow for growth. If that box is secured with prejudice or ignorance, then it can seem impossible to break free of it.
In reality, we are only as boxed in as we choose to be. We can also choose to ignore people’s attempts to stereotype, confound their efforts to categorise. Nevertheless, the boxy tendency is prevalent and will affect how others interact with us. I would say I have been guilty of this same compelling tendency, to some degree, in most of my relationships. I am remembering what a surprise it was to me, a long time after I got to know Himself, to discover that he didn’t love the outdoors. You see, I had put him in a box, the box of a countryside loving, outdoorsy, natural living kind of guy. I made assumptions (and this is at the core of all stereotypes) based on the job he did, namely, that of Gamekeeper. I watched him set off each day, striding across the heathery hills in all weather and I assumed, I just assumed he loved to be a part of all that. I think it was our one and only experience of camping that finally burst this bubble. Himself hated camping, he hated everything about it from the cramped and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, the work of tent set up to the tedious tasks of fetching water and food preparation au naturel. We lasted one day and never repeated the experience. I discovered that he loves nature, loves the outdoors but mainly from the perspective of a solid, comfortable, centrally heated home, or to take a stroll in fine weather with the knowledge of the solid home to return to.
That’s the thing about putting people in a box, it’s a bit like the solid home Himself needs in order to “enjoy” the countryside – slotting people into a category is easy and makes us feel secure, becomes the solid home for our assumptions. The truth is, doing this doesn’t involve any real thinking, or even real experience. When we succumb to boxing, we close down, stop questioning and consequently, don’t grow. Our assumptions prevent us from really knowing others, seeing them in all their beautiful, unique, contradictory, glorious humanity.
So to you beautiful lesbian lady, thank you for your delicious cookies but thank you especially for your warmth, the warmth that was the spark for these words.
ⓒ S. Marian, Nov. 15, 2011