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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Witho is... dutiful

Tuesday night was a dinner party at the Headmaster's house with a variety of other teachers and their spouses or friends. The Head occupies a beautiful old, double-fronted, detached house on the school grounds, overlooking the cricket field in the foreground with the Blackdown Hills visible in the distance.

There was a bit of a panic beforehand about what BF was going to wear. The dress code was "casual but no jeans". Now the BF is essentially "bi-polar" when it comes to clothes, oscillating between full suit and tie for work (no teachers' cords or leatherette elbow patches here) and jeans and a t-shirt when at home. So "casual but no jeans" did not compute. He has a pair of combats which I think look great on him (I should do, I bought them for him) but they're somehow more casual than jeans, to my mind. In the end, under Witho's "guidance", he plumped for some black suit trousers with a casual shirt.

Being punctual to the point of "anality", BF and I were the first to arrive and were greeted enthusiastically by the charismatic Head and his wife.

The first hurdle - drinks. Witho doesn't drink alcohol which immediately draws suspicion in social situations. I guess I could have claimed to be driving but why should I have to lie? There's a side of me which desperately wants to be accepted, but there's also my stubborn, non-conformist streak which says "Hold on, why should I make excuses just because I choose not to poison my liver on a regular basis?"

The second hurdle - the inevitable question: "So what do you do, Witho?". Deep breath: "I'm a software engineer for a paper company". "Oh, does that mean you sit in front of a screen all day long?" Don't these people realise that probably the vast majority of people in this country sit in front of a screen all day long, it is not the exclusive domain of software engineers. Not that this is a good thing, mind. "Oooh, I don't think I could work like that. I need to move around, talk to different people, be in different places". Yes, that would be nice. Thanks for reminding me how shit my job is. "And how long have you been a software engineer?". "Nearly seven years, though I'm still not convinced it's my true vocation in life..."

Other guests arrive and talk turns to schools. Teachers seem to be fascinated to know what schools people went to - I know the BF is, and judging by this evening, he's not the only one. Most of the guests reeled off the name of their school and everyone would nod, knowingly. Those kind of schools, the ones which just have one, well-respected name or, in the BF's case, an abbreviation (MGS). Luckily, the question never got round to me.

"Now let's see, from 11 - 14 I went to [insert name] Junior High School - yes, Junior High School, weird, huh? No, I'm not sure why either... Then 14 - 16 I went to [insert name] School for Girls, then [insert name] Sixth Form College". The dinner would have been burnt to a crisp if I'd had to relate that lot. And no-one, but no-one, would have nodded, knowingly.

Next hurdle - sitting right next to the Head for dinner. The guy sitting to my right obviously sympathised - kept nudging and asking if I was okay. I was, but there were some tricky moments; the questions about parents.

"So what did your dad do while you were growing up in Walthamstow?"
"He was a journalist" (so far so good, one of those "one word" professions which people can relate to)
"Oh, which newspaper?"
"It was a magazine about transport, he was quite an enthusiast"

Further questions ensued that anyone who had really known their father could have answered. I just had to tell him:

"I don't really know, he died when I was very little..."
"Oh"

I willed him not to ask about my mum. He didn't.

Later, he extolled the virtues of having "a family" (i.e. children - of which he has four). "They give you so much to talk about. My wife and I went for a meal without the children, but all we could talk about was them". Hmmm, I'll bear that in mind if I ever run out of things to say to BF. "I do hope you'll have children of your own one day". Why, why do you hope that? I don't. I'm sitting here, almost revelling in my period pains, relieved *not* to be pregnant...

I'm not ideal "trophy wife" material. My story is too difficult, too different, too lacking in direction. BF says I should just be me but in these formal situations, "me" isn't good enough, "me" isn't formal enough, "me" isn't posh enough, "me" doesn't conform, but unfortunately, I find it very hard to be someone other than "me".



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