Archive for October 17th, 2008

October 17, 2008

Conspiracy theories

(From last weekend in the NIE)

On a Saturday evening in Dublin I was startled suddenly by a gang of women in short pink wigs apparently running towards me. At the last moment, though, they turned towards the street and I realized that they were merely trying to get a taxi. As they ran across the road into a waiting cab, I realized that they were all accomplishing this in most unstable looking pairs of high heels.
I’ve been traveling rather a lot recently, and at every airport and station I have been struck by the athleticism shown by women in stilettos. They walk briskly along main roads. They negotiate traffic. Cobblestones. Huge amounts of luggage. Or even all of the above. When I wear stilettos I teeter. I can barely negotiate furniture and a handbag. If there is any soft ground anywhere I will find it and sink into it. I catch myself wondering if there were secret classes held to teach people how to negotiate these shoes that I somehow got left out of.
It’s the same with a number of other minor skills. Each year during the monsoons I curse my inability to competently roll up my jeans so that they won’t get drenched in the rain. One leg will always be longer than the other, and the minute a dirty puddle appears the whole thing unravels and rushes lovingly down into the mud. It’s like one of those old myths about how certain animals came to be the way they are – “one day the gods summoned all the animals to teach them how to roll up their jeans. Only one animal did not arrive. Aishwarya was asleep in the forest and so had missed the message”.
Comfortingly, I am not alone in the “secret lessons” theory. Stephen Fry (actor, author and genius at large) has also voiced this suspicion. In a post on his blog a few months ago he spoke of his inability to dance and his bafflement when, as a child, all his classmates seemed to know how to do it. “Here were boys and girls my age twisting, spinning and jumping at each other and they all seemed to know what they were doing. Had I been confined to the sick room with an asthma attack the day disco dancing was covered in the syllabus?” Evidently I’m in distinguished company. A friend of mine believes that the art of whistling, too, might be said to fall into this category of mysterious skills. She’s been trying for years, asking for help from anyone who might provide it, and no amount of practice or instruction has ever coaxed a sound out of her. She’s beginning to suspect they are giving her the wrong directions to keep her out of the club.
As a whistler myself, however, I can assert that this is not the case. I can remember exactly where I was and how old when I first learnt to whistle, the ability just arrived out of nowhere. Perhaps dancing, and walking in high heels, and rolling up one’s jeans; all these and countless other actions are also just instinctive – some are lucky enough to have them and some aren’t. But it all seems terribly unfair.