Last week I RSVP’d to a reception that will be attended by Cabinet Ministers, elected members of the Commons and the House of Lords. I have never attended an event like this before. It’s true that upon first meeting me people usually get the impression that I’m posh. I am not going to feign surprise at this for one moment because I am aware that I have a cut glass accent and to negate it with insincere, self-effacing humility is ridiculous. I have been called ‘posh totty’ more often than I care to remember, but those who know me will tell you how silly that is. Yes, I went to a public school (obsolete British jargon for exclusive, fee-paying schools) but there isn’t a drop of blue blood in my veins, nor did I grow up in Downton bloody Abbey or have anything in common with the Upper Classes, so don’t let my accent fool you.
While I have attended many soirées in my day, especially when I used to work for an NGO, I have never been personally invited to a reception of this calibre. Oh, it isn’t terribly exciting; I’m a supporter of a certain high-profile society and it’s their annual members’ reception. It’s not like I’m about to meet the members of Def Leppard for a cold one. Now that would be life changing. But it is exciting enough for me to plan wardrobe and accessories months in advance, not to mention book a salon appointment on the day so that my hair is just right. Which is just as well, because I am hopeless at doing anything besides a messy updo that wouldn’t look out of place at an East Harlem Target opening. Pair that with my assortment of Deep Purple shirts and I look more like a member from the cast of Hair than Lady Mary Crawley.
It has occurred to me that I have never attended an event like this alone before, and this is not the place you take a friend or a casual date to. What do you do in a situation like this? Busy yourself with the canapés? Drink enough champagne to irrigate a desert? Poise yourself around crowds of strangers and wait for an opening? What would Hyacinth Bucket do? I don’t think my social skills are up to the task. I would probably be cordoned away by men in suits and end up in a psychiatric ward. My social etiquette could do with a refresher course, and if any of you have any tips or suggestions, do let me know. Manners are a form of currency and the more you know of them, the better. I know not to tread on toes but equally how to upbraid people who do. I am passionate and knowledgeable about my pastimes, but I never boast or impose about my knowledge on to others uninvited.
Thankfully, I’ll be able to get in a little practice before the event as my social calendar is brimming with engagements and they’re not all doing vodka shots at my local bar or wrestling the natives for a touch of sunshine. I am very excited about a Haydn symposium I am attending in a couple of weeks, and last weekend I went to see Beethoven’s 9th with my dear friend Karin. Though I would hardly call an evening out with her an exercise in social etiquette; we normally end up covered in red wine and hobbling merrily along the South Bank frightening the tourists. I think we were propositioned the last time, which was especially shocking given that we had only just partaken in the holy pageant of Handel’s Messiah. Much as I love to perpetuate my wild child notoriety, the truth is that I feel most at ease in the company of books, art and gentlefolk. Refined decadence, even, but one that does not dictate the abandonment of beauty and common decency. Philosophers have argued that through the pursuit of beauty, we shape the world as a whole. For Plato, beauty was the path to the divine. By walking this path we come to understand our own nature as spiritual beings that strive for a peaceful balance and connectedness with our higher selves.
But our world, it seems, has turned its back on beauty and surrounded itself with ugliness and alienation. Where artists once sought to glorify the world, art is now taken over by provocation and protestation. Feeding our appetites and addictions and wallowing in self-disgust. Since the world is disturbing, art should be disturbing too. Those who look for beauty and aesthetics, like me, are out of touch with modern reality. Sometimes the intention is to shock us, but what is shocking at first is boring when repeated. Ideas can and should be interesting, but this does not justify the appropriation of the label of art. If a work of art is nothing more than an idea, anybody can be an artist, and any object can be a work of art. And, if that is the case, then there is no longer any need for skill, taste or creativity.
Is there such a place where the real and the ideal exist in harmony? In my version, each person would be free to live and love as they like without the devastating weight of political correctedness snuffing out original thought and respectability. In fact, respectability would cease to be the dirty word it is today. Thinkers of the enlightenment saw good graces as ways in which we save ourselves from a life of ordinariness and rise to a higher level. I am not calling for the reinstatement of obsolete social rituals such as bowing and curtsying, but I do feel that society would greatly benefit if we practiced a little more graciousness, civility and humility. And it doesn’t cost a penny.
It has been one year since I pricked my finger on a spindle and sallied forth into a dance with three Wyrd Sisters. This is how I feel about my blog’s first anniversary. Twelve months and 800 followers later, my experiences can be surmised as a happy if occasionally manic tailspin of exploration and creativity. I am grateful for the friendships I have made along the way, and for the trust that has been placed in me by my readers.
It has not been a simple journey; I am a very private person. This will come as no surprise to those who admire my John Locke style of blogging, which I have recently diversified with offerings of a more personal nature. I aim to strike a healthy balance between the two; the former for my soul, because I am, at my core, a frustrated philosopher, and the latter because I feel it is necessary to offset my passions with the candour and simplicity of daily life. And, much as the taste of ergot upon the cerise mouths of poets, every single blog I write feels like dancing and dying in a neverending spiral of reinvention. Thank you, my dear readers, for making it worthwhile.