Marie Claire Moments

Nov 23rd, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Lunch on Saturday is with a friend who has reinvented himself completely.

From growing up with an unpromising future; serving as an ordinary squaddie in the British army; then working in a string of manual jobs; he began a transformation.  Workman’s clothes were replaced by slick suits; factory floors by an office in Mayfair; sandwiches in a lunchbox by expense account lunches with clients; package holidays by trips to India or Peru; hatchback car by classic Mercedes; fun for him now is riding his Ducati 999 motorcycle out for a day from his Surrey home or drinking in a wine bar on the Embankment.

Over a glass one day, I asked him, in my accent which passes as soft Ulster to the ears of most people here, “You don’t actually tell people that our school was a public school, do you?”

“Of course not”, he said, “it’s just that when I talk to them at the club, they make assumptions”.

It seemed reasonable.  If you meet someone with a sharp Home Counties accent, in a gentlemen’s club in London, who talks about days at a boarding school, you tend to make a string of assumptions.

We laughed, as we will on Saturday, about the journeys we have made.  The only thing exclusive about our school was the brand of fundamentalist Christianity embraced by some of the staff, who would be horrified at toasts to their memory being made in a bar beside the Thames.

But how much is it possible to reinvent yourself?

C J Sansom’s novel, Dissolution, has a telling passage,

Then a dreadful thing happened. It seemed to me that Whelplay caught sight of me and at once bent his trunk forward in imitation of my twisted gait. Not only that, but he stretched forth his arms and began waving them to and fro, seeming to waggle his fingers mockingly. It is a mannerism I have when I am excited, so those who have seen me in court have told me. But how could Whelplay know such a thing: I was taken back again to those schooldays I had been reflecting on, when cruel children would imitate my movements, and I confess that as I watched the novice staggering about, bent and gesticulating, the hair rose on my neck.

Sansom’s character, Matthew Shardlake, is so conscious of the curvature of his spine that he assumes the delirium of someone suffering from poisoning is a re-visitation of the mocking he had endured as a child.

Do we ever move on from our early experiences, or do the uncertainties and lack of confidence come back to haunt us?

A friend in the long past, who went on to very lucrative things, once told me of an interview he had conducted with a very able candidate for a post in the bank for which he was working at that time, “It’s not that he wasn’t very well qualified for the post; it’s just that he would not have had the confidence to cope with the clients”.  It was a conversation that persuaded me that I would never have coped in the City.

On Saturday we’ll raise a glass, to him being him and me being me, and our friends being our friends.

And who is Marie Claire? Someone who re-invented herself, or did she?

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  1. Knowing you I think I know who your Marie Claire is.
    She did reinvent herself in a very big way – from the back streets of Naples to holidays in St Moritz and a friend of the Aga Khan. Peter Starsted knew her too!!!!!!!

  2. But does Marie Claire succeed in complete reinvention or is Sarstedt’s view of childhood memories still haunting her the more realistic view?

    How would her version of events have been written?!!

  3. Robert does not think she succeeds in complete reinvention and he thinks she is still haunted by childhood memories. She cannot completely escape her past. From the female point of view I agree and am sure her past is still part of her “story” – not to the outside world – but when she is alone in bed and looks inside her head. There have probably been many milestones in her life that she can look back on and know how she succeeded in advancing in the public eye and superficial friends. I remember you all wondered where she lived in Paris when you looked down from the Eiffel Tower. Fascinating trying to imagine another’s life from one’s own perspective.

  4. No matter how we try to exorcise our ghosts I think they lurk in the dark recesses of our minds waiting for a word, a tune or a voice to rekindle them when we least expect it..

  5. Last time we were in Paris, we walked up the Boulevard Saint Michel, looking up the side streets for fancy apartments!

    John Hume once spoke about us all being products of our past, but making a choice about whether we were prisoners of the past.

    Maybe it’s the extent to which we feel ‘held’ by the past that determines how strong the ‘ghosts’ are.

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