Monday, 25 September 2017

Nothing Can Be Done

Lynne Truss (she of the semicolon, Oxford comma, and wry humour) has published one of the best tributes to Joni Mitchell I've yet come across. It's particularly good because it's a view from down here at fan ground-level, and hits the spot for me because – being English and 62 and state-educated – it seems she could easily, with a little bit of geographical adjustment, have been one of the grammar-school girls I knew back in the 1970s who turned me on to that sublime oeuvre in the first place. The actual BBC broadcast (linked in the written piece) is even better. Go on, give it a listen.

Ah, those girls! If there's one thing I regret, and would change if I could, it is the way we boys, so often, behaved towards them. I imagine adolescent boys have covered their yearnings and softer feelings with casual cruelty since the dawn of time; certainly, we did. Though never with the studied, sustained intensity we reserved for each other. All the same, I am appalled, now, when I think back to some of the ways we behaved, and some of the hurtful things we said. And, what may be worse, some of the kind things that went unsaid and undone.

It's too late now, of course, and nothing can be done. A good many will be grandmothers, now, with a lifetime of experiences that far outweigh any ancient memories they might retain of the smart-mouthed, loutish teenage boys they once knew, who were always more interested in entertaining their mates and establishing pecking orders than in reaching across the gender divide. Which was, it must be conceded, a more considerable barrier in those days of customary single-sex education.

This came home to me recently, when I lit upon the website of a "girl" I once knew – now a woman of 62, of course, hard as that is to imagine – who, like me, has made a late-start career in art-making. I was going to email her just to say, "Hi, remember me?", but then realised that, even if she did, it would be a 17-year-old me that she remembered, and she might not necessarily be delighted by the memory. I'm not that keen on him myself. Better to leave it alone.

What idiots we can be! I think about this any time I see some young fool tormenting a girl whose attention he craves, but can think of no better way of getting it than to be persistently annoying, like a wasp at a picnic*. I suppose, as Joni Mitchell says, all we ever really wanted was to come in from the cold. But what strange, self-defeating ways we boys have of asking to be let in. Age may bring wisdom, but how much better to have had just a little more of it back then.
Must I surrender
With grace
The things I loved when I was younger
Must I remember your face
So well
What do I do here with this hunger

Oh I am not old
I'm told
But I am not young
Oh and nothing can be done
Don't start
My heart
Is a smoking gun
Oh and nothing can be done

Joni Mitchell, Nothing Can Be Done

* As I recently pointed out to a friend, wasps are not unfriendly, as such, just socially awkward and quick to take offence. Plus, of course, they are equipped with a ready capacity to hurt. Repeatedly. Not unlike adolescent boys, then.


Anonymous said...

This post is a big relief for me! It is exactly how I remember my own experiences with the female gender, all these missed opportunities owing to my churlishness. Knowing that I'm not alone provides some late consolation. Thankfully, it all turned out well when I met this wonderful woman 23 years ago - and she still bears me!

But, here's a puzzle: There are two gentlemen - one in his seventies and president of a western super power - the other one in his thirties, heir of a "socialist" east asian dynasty. Both of them haven't outgrown their churlishness and narcissm despite of their age, and probably never will. Still both have fairly attractive wifes! How come? Should churlishness make sexy in the end?

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...


Glad to be of service!

As to your two gents, a comedian here once asked the young, "attractive" (not in my book, but...) wife of a very successful stage and TV magician in an interview, "So what attracted you to the multi-millionaire Paul Daniels, Debbie?"

Money and/or power have oddly aphrodisiac qualities, it seems...