Melissa Todd: Blend in or stand out from the crowd?

James is the fixer of the family

My handsome son is busy with a plumbing course, and you should know I will judge you by how you respond to this news. The middle classes will splutter, “gosh – well – jolly sensible, too, wouldn’t you say, I mean it’s appalling the way the trades are always considered a second-rate option and looked down upon by so many, isn’t it? It’s not as if everyone has to go to university, no, not at all, don’t you agree?” To which I reply, “Yeah, I know. Relax.”

The working classes say “sensible lad. Could he fix my loo?”

James likes plumbing. He wants to be a musician really, but also he wants to be rich, and understands these two aims are frequently incompatible. He likes fixing things, thank goodness, as I couldn’t be any less competent in the fixing department, yet stupidly I’ve wound up with seven properties to maintain, seven boilers, nine loos, eighteen sinks, the wretched things forever spouting leaks or stubbornly refusing to spout at all. And so, sick of hearing me whine, he decided to get himself trained.

He’s been doing work experience with a plumbing firm. He found this consisted primarily of listening to baffling laddish banter. He doesn’t do laddish, or banter, my boy. “They’re nice, but they make some incredibly degrading remarks about women”, he told me, once he’d eased off his steel-capped boots, switched on some soothing Bach and mixed himself a martini. “And foreigners. But mainly women.”

“Do they, my love? Like what?”

“I couldn’t possibly repeat any of their remarks. Particularly since you’re going to use this conversation to advance your writing career. I know you too well, mater dear.”

“Fine. Be like that. So how do you respond?”

He nibbled an asparagus spear and turned a page of his novel. “With something along these lines: what a frightfully quaint observation, old thing. Positively Victorian. Do try to keep up with the times”

Lucky he’s 6ft 4 and solid muscle.

He’s also braver than me. I tried desperately to conceal my ludicrous posh voice at school to avoid being beaten up, with limited success. I really tried, also, to share the enthusiasms of my classmates, although my only real passion was for silence.

Even now I do my best to blend in at dinner parties, feigning interest in golf handicaps and charity work. I don’t know why. No one really cares what you or I think, nor how we feel. In truth, I suspect, I derive satisfaction from my unpindownability. My canned response to every social situation, murmured agreement, bland soothing banalities, keeps me safely unnoticed. I admire James’ courage, yet feel no desire to emulate it.

When people tell me they “always say what they think”, I think, but never say, what, like a  toddler? How terribly dull for you and your loved ones. Try concealing your thoughts. It’s useful and fun. My thoughts are too delicious to share. And generally too scurrilous.

What would you say or do to fit in?


  1. Ha Ha! be you, speak your mind dont give a fuck what people think of you, there I have just prooved it! if you speak well dont call it posh cos it ain’t dont let people mould you but be truthful always say what is necessary (the only law you should really never ignor) love all, and if you upset someone then tell them to get over it, as you still love them cos they are falible, human and vulnerable. Never forget everyone has a talent and everyone includes you. xxxxx

  2. Fit in to what? I have no intention at all of changing my opinions (unless further evidence in presented, of course), my accent, or my general (minor) eccentricities, just to suit other people. I may mot conform to a stereotype (although some say that I do – the pubs in university towms are full of Richard clones), there is nothing wrong with me, as I am. I am non-violent (unless attacked), an animal lover, a humanitarian, and, above all, a MUSICIAN!
    I wish you all well!

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