The CuriousPages Sketchbook

The innate skill of inadvertently insulting people

Yesterday, I was stood in my mother’s kitchen, along with my sister. My mother was analysing my new hair cut. She said, “The back looks okay,” and then there was a pause. I looked at my sister, and I could tell that she was waiting for the same thing that I was. Then my mother continued: “It’s a pity the front isn’t the same.”

My sister said, under her breath, “And there’s the insult,” which is what we were both expecting to follow. We both laughed. My mother’s talent for so expertly, yet inadvertently, insulting her children is so finely honed that it seems comical. It has the sort of timing and skill that only the best actors manage to achieve in the most well written of sitcoms or dramas.

Of course, as usual, my mother was perplexed by our laughter, since she was incapable of realizing that she had insulted me. Her insensitivity is such that she would never be capable of imagining the other person’s point of view in such situations.

I recall the time last summer when we were sat in her garden and she looked me over and then said to me, “Even your fingers are fat.” Or the time, only two weeks ago, when I walked into her kitchen to visit her and she looked up at me and the first thing she said to me was: “I like your grey hair.” I’m also reminded of the time when she told my sister, “You’d be beautiful if you had auburn hair.” Everyone laughed at my mother, for the same reasons as the above, and mother’s perplexed reply was: “She would be!” As ever, she was totally incapable of understanding how much she had just insulted my sister. In effect, she had told her: “You are ugly,” but my mother’s insensitivity and total lack of imagination is such that she would never be capable of realizing that.

It is “freaks” such as my mother who offer us an insight into the human condition. If you’re going to study the human condition, to try to fathom the finer points of how communication and interaction works, it is no good studying “normal” people. It is the occasional “freak” who, inadvertently, offers a great insight into how these mechanisms work in all of us. In the case of my mother, she provided me with a fascinating subject to study throughout childhood—along with the other “freaks” in our family, which tend to be produced when you have two grossly inadequate human beings as parents. And amongst these others who merit the accolade of “freak”, I do, of course, also belong.


15 February 2010



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