A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine kindly invited me to a night at the cinema. He was paying. I arrived at a pre-film dinner to be told that we’d be seeing Jane Eyre.
Now let’s get it out in the open at this early stage of our relationship: I hate period dramas. I really can’t bear them. I’d rather have each of my teeth pulled out by a blind, clumsy sadist than watch one all the way through. It’s the hats and bodices; the make-up and the manners. The desperate frustration of it all and the ‘I-simply-mustn’t-tell-him-how-I-really-feel-for-fear-of-crossing-class-boundaries.’
On the rare occasions that I’ve agreed to watching one, I’m immediately alienated. I switch off. And daydream about having my teeth pulled out.
I realise this is my problem. I realise this isn’t an attractive trait and I’d probably be married now if I paid more attention to an ‘art-form’ so often loved by the fairer sex. But I can’t. So I’m not married.
And don’t get me wrong.. I’m no philistine. Sit me in front of some pretentious Korean art toss and I’m as happy as larry. Oh yes. I’ve seen that seven hour Russian one. I can comment intelligently on L’Atlante and Battleship Royale and A Clockwork Orange (it’s a comedy, right?). I can hold my own at a dinner party table. But I can’t stand period dramas. The only thing I like about period dramas is the phrase ‘period drama’ which, however much I mature will always amuse me simply because it’s what my mum used to mutter when my older sister flew into one of her predictable monthly rages: ‘Uh oh.. here comes another period drama etc’.
Now, let’s get back to the story and review this situation. My dear friend (let’s call him ‘Nick Oliver’ for the sake of argument) invited me to watch this film. And to eat dinner before. He was paying. It doesn’t take very political animal to know the social protocol required of me here: whatever the intended film, my reaction should have been one of delight and excitement.
I didn’t manage delight.
But I did manage surprise (a handy back-up to delight, when delight is too hard to muster).
‘Aaaaaah!… I…..didn’t know they’d made a Jane Eyre adaptation!’ I squealed.
And it was loud. Really loud. (Please note: ‘loud’ is a useful vocal device when pretending to be surprised.)
I think it worked. My companion himself looked a little takenaback, but not offended.
So off we went. A quick Thai meal and a taxi ride later and we’d taken our seats in one of the world’s coldest cinemas. Thank you, Pacific Place.
And as the lights went down, the blankets came up and nervy people on their first dates felt shivers of electricity as their arms brushed against the arms of their intended, the strangest thing happened. I began to enjoy it. Really enjoy it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I loved it. I savoured every moment of the thing, like a long late summer evening in an English summer. I let it roll around my mind, and sweep around my eyes. It lifted me out of where I was, and led me to another place. One of barren moors and real weather. One of misunderstood romantic gestures and kisses that mean something. To a time when the human condition still found a use for imagination, because Google hadn’t been invented yet. It was utter joy. I loved the hats and the bodices. And the manners.
And what struck me as we disembarked into the dank of the Hong Kong night was that maybe it was always going to happen. Maybe I was always going to end up liking period dramas. As if there were some inescapable curse of genetics, lying dormant in my blood cells (or wherever your DNA is kept) until somewhere partway through my 29th year on this planet when it would rear its head. Maybe it was always going to happen. And now it’s here, in my midst; in my being. And I can’t wait for next remake of Pride and Prejudice.
And it gets worse.
Last week, walking through a department store in Central, I spotted a Paisley print shirt and thought, ‘I’d quite like that. The pattern’s fun.’
Fun. Fun. FUN?! Only my grandmother describes patterns as ‘fun’. And only middle aged men in England, desperately clinging to their youth wear Paisley shirts.
And so it’s happening. It’s inescapable. I guess I must give in. Give in to the inevitable. Of period dramas and of paisley shirts.
And I should point out at this juncture, I don’t think that my life is boring. I’m neither a nihilist, nor do I live in a perpetual state of ennui. I don’t think that life is predictable, or useless, or indeed that I’ve missed out or lived half-heartedly. So far, quite the opposite.
Through a mix of my own fallibility and God’s will, by 28 I’ve experienced a broken engagement to be married, been part of a national media scandal in Britain and had a road to Damascus conversion to the truth of Jesus Christ. My life so far has certainly been in technicolour. And I am full of hope. Full of hope to what God wants to do. Full of anticipation for what’s next. Full of faith in his power to redeem everything, however much we’ve screwed it up.
But despite all of this, I know, for certain, that over the next few years, I will continue to enjoy period dramas. I will begin to wear Paisley pattern shirts. And I will start to dance like my dad.
Mark Twain famously said: “Nothing in this life is certain, except death and taxes.” It is with great sadness that I must now disagree.