Traits (continued)

More on the copycat front, but not language this time.

I’ve written about this on the family history section of my web-site here – about my great-grandfather, initially. In the mid-1990s, one of my father’s cousins wrote me a very elegant pen-portrait of my great-grandfather, after whom I am named, but who died in 1948, four years before I was born, in which she described, amongst other things, his quirks. One of these, she wrote, was to make a kind of panto sneeze, in which he covered his whole face with his hand and went ‘Ooo-shah!’, presumably to amuse children, and possibly to frighten cats, of which he was allegedly very unfond. When I read this, I was amazed: because my father did exactly the same thing. His grandfather had done it (he admired his grandfather inordinately, but most people seem to have liked him) – so he did it. It was an odd sort of homage, but there it is. I can’t think of many obvious imitations of my father that I perpetuate, although eating toast only when it is cold is one of them. (My father had some odd quirks with food, of which the strangest was, when confronted with a crusty bread roll, to take all of the dough out of its centre, to roll that dough into a small ball, and to put it on the table at the side of his plate – once again, it’s the kind of detail that might just kick a fictional character off, if only I was any use at writing fiction. It’s plotting that foxes me. Or lack of effort. I can teach other people to plot, quite successfully, but I don’t seem to be able to manage to follow my own advice. I need one of my novelist friends to push me.)

Sometimes copying can take the oddest forms. I have a very dear friend who lives near Cambridge, and whom I see from time to time. I was there a couple of years ago, and her husband, quite out of the blue, offered me a pint of cold lime juice. This doesn’t happen a lot. But immediately, it seemed to me much the most sensible thing to drink, whenever possible, and, on my way back to the South-West, I nabbed a couple of bottles of lime juice, and kept up the copying for quite a while after that. They also had one of those rubber squirty things that you attach to taps, for which there must be a word – if there is a word for the part of a shoe above the toe-cap, and there is, and I cannot think of it no matter how long I keep typing this sentence, yes I can, vamp, what a great word, then there must be a word for a rubber squirty thing. Anyway, I bought one of those as well, and took some delight in being able to swish water round the sink.

Perhaps this is a fad, not a trait. Or even a superstition. When my mother was dying, she was agitated because she was sick of the taste of water, which she needed for her pills, and could not think of anything she wanted. Why don’t you drink orange barley water, I suggested. Brilliant, she said. I got her some. And since then, farewell lime juice, I have been drinking the stuff daily in her memory. One of the last things she did was to ask me to get her some money out of a cash machine – why, what was she going to spend it on in a hospice? – and I got some out myself at the same time. So (since I daren’t carry a wallet, I just lose the things) I had a £20 note in my pocket when she died. And now I always have a £20 note in my pocket. For a long time, it was the same one, but I slipped up somewhere.

Have I convinced you I am obsessive yet?


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