It was the last thing I expected.
It was Saturday morning. Early. I was sitting in my local Starbucks, drinking an Americano and musing about the goings-on on Twitter. Browsing the headlines. Looking out the window. I was miles away. Suddenly I started as I felt a firm touch on my shoulder. Light but insistent. There was a girl I didn't know, when I spun round in fright; she knelt by my chair and looked at me with piercing brown eyes.
'Hi. My name is Emma and I've been watching you.' As opening gambits go, this is one to strike fear into anyone. I was so nonplussed that I was briefly lost for words. 'And as I was watching you, God spoke to me and told me that you needed help...'
I could feel my heart plummeting like a high-speed lift in a skyscraper. Oh God. Quite literally. How was I going to get away from this girl, who was staring me out now, trying to transfix me, her captive audience there in Starbucks, my knuckles turning white as I gripped my Grande mug?
It's not something I'm proud of, but I'm admitting it. I lost my temper. Lines worthy of Malcolm Tucker (from The Thick Of It) were scrolling through my head like announcements on a railway station screen. I wish I'd thought of something witty to say or do: to have picked up my phone, perhaps, and said 'Oh, sorry, God's just texted me and he says that I'm to tell some girl Emma to go away...?' Or to ask her to wait a moment to give me time to check something, then say, no, I was terribly sorry, but that God did not seem to be following me on Twitter so she must have got a case of mistaken identity. Instead, I requested that she go away, informed her that I found her approach to be patronizing and intrusive, and that it was really quite offensive to accost a stranger in the midst of personal time and tell them they were getting their life all wrong. She left. She said 'God bless you' and that she'd pray for me. She left me jittery with outrage and with caffeine...
What is it with people, though, these days? Telling us obvious truths about how to live our lives? This girl and her unsolicited laying on of hands was only one example. One Sunday, recently, I was in a café with only the Daily Mail to read (I know... I know...) and was moved to tears of laughter by a 'special pull-out supplement' from Pippa Middleton's book Celebrate! Oh dear Pippa. Princess Pippa of the Pert Posterior and the Perfect Party Planning. There Pippa was in her Autumn special, threading conkers onto strings, all ruddy cheeks and burnished chestnuts, burgeoning with mellow fruitfulness and soft-focusing through the mists to the time when she really used to get terribly competitive in conker fights at boarding school. Such frightfully jolly fun. Pippa tells it all. How to toast a marshmallow. How to carve a pumpkin and make it glow in the October bleakness. How to plump a cushion and how to hunt down a rich husband. All right: I exaggerate. That last bit is made up, and actually the skipping, capering trivalities of Celebrate! need no parody... the book finds its home on that safe top shelf which is quite beyond the reach of irony.
It's everywhere, though. People telling us how we've got it wrong, and how to get it right next time. It's not the laid-back attitude of the old Gerry Rafferty song, though. This time, it's aggressive, and they mean business: it's the light but insistent hand laid on your shoulder, the all-pervasive marketing, the cute Head Girl of UK high society who tells you how to do the simplest things because really, without her you'd just be utterly hopeless, dahlings. It's Nigella Lawson and the recipes she stopped eating to package herself in new, more streamlined form. Oh, she says she did it all by giving up wine apart from on Friday nights, but really it's that she's just not eating the food she tells us we all need to make our lives like hers - Italianate and glamorous. Eat a 7000 chocolate and hazelnut cheescake, or a 2144 ice cream brioche? That's balenissima, sweeties: not Nigellissima at all.
The ubiquitous, chintzy florals of Cath Kidson sum it up. It's the nanny state leading us by the hand back into the nursery, tucking us up in a nice flowery quilt and wishing us sweet dreams. Sweet dreams of recipes and conkers and fairylight-threaded blessings around the self-satisfied glow of getting it all just right.
It's not a sweet dream. It's a nightmare, from which we should all be trying to awake. And awakening from it now, and not next time at all.
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