Philobiblon: Knowing you, knowing me

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Knowing you, knowing me

Who can resist listening when you hear people talking about you? Curiosity about what others think of you is a universal aspect of the human condition - even if you KNOW that the eavesdropper is almost certain to hear something that will upset or disappoint them.

So the tradition in British newspapers, that when you leave a mocked-up front page is done recording your departure - with a fair degree of (usually) friendly mockery - is a fascinating insight into what others think of you.

I'm still chuckling over mine from last week that speaks of me being "the voice that launched a thousand slips". (Slips are pages individually updated within an edition of the paper.) Since people have been commenting on my "distinctive" voice since an art teacher in high school described me as a fishwife, I don't find that a surprise.

And I'm also enjoying the "Wicket Witch of the West", referring, in part, to my cricket wicketkeeping. (And I did always like Germaine Greer's "grow old disgracefully".)

I was, however, surprised that the general view was that I changed lots of headlines. Really, really, I didn't - it was mostly the senior staff who did that, when I was responsible for the page - but there it is, recorded for posterity, and I'll have to wear it.

Having dug out my Times farewell from a couple of years ago, I guess there is a consistency in the way people regard me - energetic, or pushy, depending on your perspective. My Times one has the rather amazing paragraph when you think about it - "'She was decisive, multi-talented, audible and openly wanted to get on - she would never really fit in here,' said a senior Times executive."

Perhaps it says more about the Times than me, but I'd say that I'm not, at least in the traditional way, ambitious, I just hate being bored and love to do new things. And I'm not always sensitive to how that goes down.

The photos on both pages are terrible - no insult to the photographers, but I do generally take a terrible photo.

But in the interests of having a professional photo image - yes you will see it soon - a professional photographer friend of mine with infinite patience this week took me into the studio. And I've been picking out the ones to use out of the results.

It is revealing. I've learnt that I simply cannot smile without closing my eyes, something I was never aware of, and I really have no jawline to speak of. (Good bones were not something I won in the lottery of life - also no cheekbones, ones that you can see anyway.)

But I also learnt something about my internal self; that doing this really, really freaked me out. Being in front of a camera, when the focus is on what you look like, is not something I handle at all well. (If I'm just there to talk it doesn't worry me - I once was interviewed for television just after getting my head out of a rugby scrum. I wasn't self-conscious about it then. I can't say the results looked great, although they sounded OK.)

And I was reminded of just how deep something my grandmother once said to me has sunk. I was about 10, and she looked at me, head on one side, and said: "They say 'pretty child, ugly adult'; such a pity." And no, I've never entirely managed to forget it.

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