on . . . public displays of emotion
I cried all the way home the other week. This is not unusual for me, or people like me. We get emotional. It’s part of who we are. Something happens and it triggers a river of woe and suddenly everything that there is to be sad about in the world comes crashing down on us. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, out of the blue something strikes us as impossibly glorious – it could be a flock of birds swooping around the Poolbeg chimneys on a clear day – and that’s enough to make us grin hello at strangers, all at one with the world.
People moan about Public Displays of Affection, but I’ve always been guilty of Public Displays of Emotion. I can’t hide my feelings. People like me missed the life class where you learned to put on a poker face. We cannot pretend.
What happened the other week was I went to eat one of my old fast-food haunts. It’s not a chain. There are no Happy Meals here. I like it because there are booths which make it feel kind of 1950s, and they serve the freshest white sliced pan. They don’t get that much business from me any more because I’ve mostly stopped craving this kind of food. It’s a place that serves mixed grills with liver, because there’s still a demand for that kind of thing. You see older people eating here alone having the same thing they’ve always had, possibly for decades. The staff are friendly. They know their customers. Sometimes I get a notion and I end up in here ordering a plate of proper chipper chips and two slices of bread and butter.
In the past I’d have been wracked with self-loathing at my restaurant choice, but I walked in at peace with my decision that day. My children and their father were out of the jurisdiction. I had three newspapers which I intended to read from cover to cover. Instead of stuffing the food into my face, I intended to savour it, chip by deep fried chip.
And to add to my pleasure, when I sat down there was a beautiful little girl around the same age as my two girls sitting in the next booth. Her hair was tied in French plaits the likes of which I could never do. They were gathered in gingham ribbons. I thought about how long it must have taken her young mother, sitting across from her, to make her daughter’s hair so pretty. The impeccable plaits were accessorised by the sweetest little girl smile you’ve ever seen.