Wednesday, 12 March 2008

An Eeyore moment


He often thought what a good thing it would be if the wearing of masks or animal's heads could become customary for persons over a certain age. How restful social intercourse would be if the face did not have to assume any expressions – the strained look of interest, the simulated delight or surprise, the anxious concern one didn't really feel.

This excerpt from Barbara Pym's Less Than Angels struck a chord, as her lines so often do for me. This is a book full of sly digs at the foibles of academics and, since I am preparing to run a 3-day conference in April, I find it easy to identify her types among my delegates. It's a small conference – under 100 people – and so relatively easy, but it's three days of being at the beck and call of people who find their bedroom too close to the lift or to the place where staff gather to smoke, or who wrote their PowerPoint presentation on a Mac and find that the college's PC won't read it, or need to print their paper 10 minutes before their presentation is due. Relatives are taken ill, luggage only turns up on the last day; I hope it's not tempting Providence to mention it, but I've never had the ultimate horror of a death during the event, although it's happened to a colleague.

The current preoccupation is simpler. Apart from being ready – programmes and abstracts printed, badges bought and prepared, menus decided, rooming lists compiled, wine ordered (of vital importance!)- and checking the box of things every organiser should have - scissors, white tack, pay-as-you-go mobile (surprisingly useful), spare USB stick, marker pens etc - I am trying to prepare myself, practising the expression of open friendliness and interest, the warm and welcoming voice, the alert listening face I glue on at the conference dinner when I am so exhausted all I want to do is crawl into bed with a glass of whisky. And I'm hampered: my natural expression is just a touch on the gloomy side, I'm told, even when I am at my most tranquil, while my thinking expression tends to be a slight frown. Conscious of this, by the end of a conference I feel as if I've been grinning manically for days.

My inclination, like that of Pym's Alaric Lydgate, would be to retreat behind a mask. However, I shall try to channel the 3am frets into consideration of what I am to wear to alleviate the Eeyore tendencies; I remember arriving at one conference venue, hanging my clothes for the event in the wardrobe and thinking, "Goodness, it's a positive symphony of black!" Perhaps I'd better just pop out to M&S next week.

13 comments:

Table Talk said...

I think the worst thing that ever happened to me in this situation was being so tired at the end of a seventeen hour day that I slept straight through a fire alarm. While everyone else was out shivering on the car-park, I was still blissfully asleep in my bed. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. I'm sure nothing will go wrong for you, but The bears have got their paws crossed, just in case.

GeraniumCat said...

We've only had a fire alarm go off once, and I wasn't in that building, so it wasn't too frightful that I slept through it, although I suppose I should have gone and counted people and patted them soothingly on the head. That was the conference where I had such a bad cold I completely lost my voice and could only whisper by day 3, and on the conference outing I thought en elderly man was going to have a heart attack in the middle of nowhere. So please thank the Bears, and tell them I am grateful:)

Poetess said...

Your cat is the image of my mum cat. Her name is Millie and she has a daughter Poppy.

A home without a cat is just a house!!

GeraniumCat said...

Poetess, I'm afraid this qualifies as just a house: my cat is no longer with us. If you are interested in why I don't have a cat any more, I posted about it when I started this blog:
http://geraniumcat.blogspot.com/2007/08/phaea.html

Hannah Velten said...

Hate conferences - attended loads of them when I was a reporter - Argh! Masks should be sent out with the conference paperwork...fabulous idea! Good luck with yours - sure it will go swimmingly...

GeraniumCat said...

Oh yes, Hannah, I shall put it in the Joining Instructions: "Please be sure to wear your mask at all times, to ensure entrance to conference room and the organiser's peace of mind." By the way, did you get my email, the other day?

elizabethm said...

I think you have hit it with clothes. A cheery coloured jacket or skirt and a bit of lipstick can do quite a bit of the warm interested look for you. Sounds like very hard work to me. Best of luck with it. I once went to a conference where the speaker got locked in the toilet - not by a colleague, I don't think.

GeraniumCat said...

At the risk of getting into frightful trouble (I do try to stay anonymous here!), I can think of one or two speakers I would cheerfully have locked in the loo.

The trouble with lipstick is that I've always chewed it off within half an hour - I don't wear much make-up as a rule:)

Nan - said...

I loved reading this, and I think you have a potential short story or essay here, honestly. Great writing.

GeraniumCat said...

Thank you, Nan! Um, perhaps when I retire, and only if there is no possibility of work colleagues ever reading it - not that I want to say anything scurrilous, but it would act as considerable constraint.

Becca said...

Barbara Pym, marvellous author, often writes what I am thinking and the things I wish I had said! Great post. I occasionally run conferences, too ... so, good luck to you and may all your guests be mellow!

Juxtabook said...

Found my way here from Mutterings and Meanderings, and already we have something in common - "my natural expression is just a touch on the gloomy side, I'm told, even when I am at my most tranquil, while my thinking expression tends to be a slight frown".

Me too! I suffer from a naturally downturned mouth that gets more evident the hard the thought that I think. I tried to fight it when I was younger, but in the end have just given in; I have decided there are advantages to being slightly scary!

Good luck with the conference.

GeraniumCat said...

Becca, thank you. I love Pym's perceptive writing and return to her often.

Juxtabook, you're right, there are some advantages! But in almost 35 years I still haven't trained my OH not to tell me to smile when I'm feeling perfectly content. And it always infuriates me!