26 January 2007

Mrs Bartolozzi - Freedom of silly speech


Washing machine, washing machine
Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy
Get that dirty shirty clean
Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy
Make those cuffs and collars gleam
Everything clean and shiny


With an eloquent flow of words, it was my father’s intention to impress those around him. Usually, he succeeded: it wasn't so difficult in our village, and certainly he was an exception to the mundane rule; an articulate graduate with a truly astonishing capacity for retaining and regurgitating information, he was admired more than he was ever liked. Even beyond the parameters of next-to-nowhere, his abilities were recognised; on more than one occasion, he was prized for his abilities; it was reassuring to know that he was a master of other minds. It was somewhat inevitable that everyone remarked that I took after him when I began to achieve academically, but knowing my shallow depth of my father's character, those words never felt like a compliment.

Often, I questioned where those remarks left my mother. Back in 1963, at the age of 14, she was taken out of school to begin an apprenticeship simply because she was the oldest child in an impoverished family: choice never came into the equation, with her widow mother having to provide for five with no money. That was the way it was back then. My mother never felt bitter about it, so there was no bitterness to express. An attractive woman she became, and when pregnant to my father in 1971, she had no alternative but to get married: afterwards, with no support- financial or emotional- from her husband, once again she found herself with no alternative but to work. She struggled to provide for my brother and I, managing to make ends meet at the end of the month.

Reading between the lines, I understood that to those in the world around me, her survival was considered to have nothing to do with intelligence. Later in life, observing how knowledge and eloquence were used by another parent, I noted my mother's subtlety when it came to expressing herself with the folk who lived and worked all their lives in the same village, including those with a qualification or professional training, who were considered to be my father's peers, beyond her. To all of them she talked, communicating on a wavelength that my father could never aspire to. She related to them; she talked with them, not to them; she somehow sensed their emotional state, knowing when they needed to talk or listen, whether they wanted to get something off their chest or simply needed cheering up. Her own conversation ebbed and flowed accordingly. She had an opinion of her own on every subject, and expressed it unsullied by any sense of her own self-importance, simply and sincerely, which meant that people listened and cared about what she said.

Shy as a child, I'd go so far as to say that I was in awe of her virtuosity as a conversationalist, and appreciated that it demonstrated a kind of intelligence that is still not valued enough.

It took years for me to admire that my mother embraced what was silly: she was capable of reducing herself to nursery rhyme nonsense. But I learned to appreciate that it was a choice on her part, a coping mechanism, a device.
Unlike my father, she wasn't preoccupied with how other people perceived her: arguably, because she had a stronger sense of self, or because her image mattered not one whit, or because she was prepared to sacrifice it in order to relate with other people, to allow them feel superior and comfortable in her company... that was important to her.

Or perhaps she had an innate sense of how, with all of the veneer stripped away, we all are equally ridiculous.

From both parents, I learned an invaluable leason: that you can't separate end from means. Whatever you choose to reveal says a lot about who you are. And you can't separate what you have to say from how you say it.

3 comments:

Arash said...

Spot on!!! This aspect of self realisation is something i've thought alot about. I like what you wrote. Very much, and in connection to one of the saddest songs i've heard.

Ally said...

please keep writing :)

Ms C Qrisp said...

Why, thanks you, Ally... that is the nicest thing anyone has said to me in years