If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly
When the time comes for someone to deliver my eulogy, I offer whoever it is this less-than-inspirational quote for free. Yet it has been a source of great strength and comfort throughout my life.
The words are actually G. K. Chesterton’s, appearing in his 1910 book, What’s Wrong with the World, a propos his views on education and his defence of the amateur, and indeed the whole concept of hobbies.
I realised that this was a constructive approach to life when Mr Verity and I were decorating our first home, which the previous occupants had thoughtfully left with dark green skirting boards. My timid technique with a paintbrush meant that it took many coats to achieve a nice white skirting board. The next step was to replace the threadbare carpet, and carpet layers duly arrived with their mega staple guns, and left behind some great big chips in the white, revealing the dark green again. Despair – Mr Verity seriously considered repainting the skirting boards all over again, unconvinced that they could ever be touched up successfully with paint. Me, I just got out a bottle of Tippex (remember that?) and covered up the offending chips, counting on the fact that we would soon forget that they were there and that none of our guests would be so peculiar as to lie down on the floor and find fault with our paintwork (and if they did, well, they wouldn’t be invited back again).
The perfectionist approach can only lead to madness and despondency. This is illustrated very neatly in a French and Saunders sketch in which an anxious middle-class mother finds that her small daughter – her small sugar-free, E-number-free daughter – has been given a sweet by a well-meaning friend. ‘You’ve ruined her!’ Jennifer Saunders cries. ‘I’ll have to get rid of her and start all over again!’ In fact, so important is it not to take this attitude, that the concept of the good enough mother actually exists.
I find it helps to keep this quote in mind in the kitchen, too. Don’t give up on making something just because you don’t have all the ingredients: identify a reasonable substitute (of course, a degree of experience as to what constitutes ‘reasonable’ in this context helps), hope for the best and brazen it out. Did you know you can use apples instead of onions? It works a treat in lasagne.
As a devotee of vintage clothes who is entirely lacking in any skills as a seamstress, I’ve been forced to come up with lazy short cuts to remodel garments. Is a top or a dress too big? Shirring elastic in a matching colour along the line of the shoulder seams will see to that in no time.
But the best exponent of this philosophy must be King Manuel I of Portugal. When in 1516 the magnificent rhino he was sending to the Pope to curry favour with him was shipwrecked and drowned, King Manuel simply had the poor beast’s remains salvaged and stuffed, and sent him on his way again. He even had the temerity to complain when His Holiness did not immediately send him a thank-you letter . . .