In the mood
‘The Queen of Moods is my daughter. Her foul temper is at least predictable. I try to keep out of her way before she’s had her breakfast. She comes downstairs like a dragon, scorching the wallpaper. I take cover’
I’ve just sat through 20 minutes of somebody complaining moodily about someone else’s moodiness. But of course moodiness is catching. I’m feeling quite moody myself, now. I don’t like the way the carpet’s looking at me.
Even the dog is moody. If I suggest to him that he might like to chase a squirrel, his tail thrashes like mad and his eyes light up with joy. But if I leave him on his own in the kitchen for five minutes while I water the greenhouse, when I come back he sprawls grumpily on the floor and refuses to look at me for hours.
The Queen of Moods is my daughter. Her foul temper is at least predictable. I try to keep out of her way before she’s had her breakfast. She comes downstairs like a dragon, scorching the wallpaper. I take cover.
“Who’s left the jam there?” she seethes. Hiding under the table, I hope to get away with it. “I see somebody’s started the new bread without finishing the old bread!” Her eyes flash, reducing the breadbin to ashes. She glances at the newspaper. “I hate rich people and I’m going to Kill Them All!”
A couple of slices of avocado on toast, though, and she’s wreathed in smiles. “It’s such a lovely day! Stroke the dog, he’s so velvety! I’m going to refill the peanut feeders for the darling little birds! I love the Queen she’s a legend!”
While she’s feeding the birds I crawl tentatively out, like the survivor of an air raid. Now all I have to worry about is the postal delivery at noon when my partner receives his bills, complaints, bank statements and bossy directives from DEFRA.
You have to tip-toe carefully around a volatile temperament. My parents’ temperaments were far more steady, though opposite. My mother was constitutionally optimistic. Her response to any illness was “It’ll right itself.” I think if she’d been at the execution of Charles I, when they held up his severed head she would have shouted, “Don’t worry, your Majesty, you’ll soon feel better!”
Dad was the opposite. He came out of blackness and danger: a long line of Derbyshire miners. Then he worked for GCHQ. Secrets, terror, nuclear war. My mother chattered vivaciously whenever we had company. He sat in silence, drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair and occasionally glancing out of the window, expecting the Apocalypse to be coming up the street with its teeth bared.
I started off moody. As a terrible toddler I was once so furious, I ran upstairs and stamped on the floor, hoping the ceiling would collapse on my family in the sitting room below. But the 1940s council houses were made of stern stuff and the ornate plasterwork and chandelier were unmoved.
It’s the business of teenagers to be moody. I remember rehearsing my glowering in the bathroom mirror. When I was 12, my mother said to a friend, “Sue’s wearing her first bra today!” I made her pay for that! I sulked for 36 hours. In those days I could sulk in my sleep.
I suppose the roller-coaster of moods is inevitable given the uncertainties of human life. But as an adult, as the divorces, burglaries, wars and mouldy cheese mounted up, my moods became less extreme. A calmness came over me, gradually. It was restful. What do they call it? Fatalism. It’s incredibly soothing. I recommend it. The sink will be blocked. The car’s battery will be flat. The dog will scoot on the carpet when the vicar comes to tea. A pandemic will spread over the face of the earth. Of course.
Just once a decade, though, I erupt out of my habitual calm, like a little old volcano, for old time’s sake. It’s usually about something very trivial. Fiona Bruce, for instance. She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, but is she audible? Only one word in four gets past my earwax. Murmuring the news is not what she’s paid for.
“Burbleburbleburble GOVERNMENT burbleburble INVESTIGATION burbleburbleburble JUNE NEXT YEAR.”
“‘Speak up, Fiona, for crying out loud!” I bellow, and hurl my bottle of beer at the telly, like Father Jack. It’s tremendously liberating.