He, she, it

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ARABELLA

In this household, Sunday lunch for two people means the use and/or burning of up to nine saucepans, plus a mountain of washing-up and a stomach ache. I am usually lumbered with cleaning up the mess that Roland makes in the kitchen, considered by him to be fair exchange for my not paying any rent. The reality is that I have never had time to do anything other than scrape limpet-strength black stuff off supposedly non-stick surfaces.

Yesterday, however, having finished all my chores, I calculated I had half an hour in which to scribble down part of a chapter of a book I'm trying to write. The first sentence was looking rather good: "It's a warm wind, the west wind, full of bird's cries ..." and it would have gone on to describe the afternoon doings of Victorian sailors on a pleasure-beach, when Roland burst in, blathering about some new piece of psychometric personality test stupidity.

Out of politeness, I stopped writing and paid attention. This included hearing him try out the test's military-sounding acronym, "ASD", which, combined with his asinine facial expression, and a number of ineffectual hand gestures, ie man lighting pipe in high wind circa 1958 (but without the pipe) made a tableau vivant worthy of the cover of the Reader's Digest.

It took me about a minute to work out that there is absolutely no point to an Adjectival Self-Description test. Viz, the victim must choose three words which they feel describe themselves accurately, then the questioner can snigger with knowledgeable laughter and refuse to explain.

I always forget that the endgame of Roland's barrage of horrid little tests is to prove his superiority over Mere Girls. What interesting conclusions might a psychologist draw from that, I wonder?

It has taken me years to learn to cope with his lack of emotional development, which includes trying to make me feel like a particularly thick monkey being stalked by David Attenborough ("and if we watch ... for a moment ... it becomes apparent that the female has NO IDEA how to make aioli ...")

I'm afraid I finally lost it when Roland described himself as "Creative, Untidy and Sensitive". Untidiness is obviously seen as a manly virtue, and he may even believe that buying chrome furniture and poisoning people at mealtimes are hallmarks of creativity, but "sensitive" goes too far. Hardly descriptive of someone who has just defined my tolerant nature as "listlessness due to a lack of regular intellectual stimulation", or my dependability as "harmless self-delusion, possibly caused by oestrogen imbalance". I think I was justified in diagnosing his creative untidiness as "Bugger off and get a life, you little gizzard."

ROLAND

How would you describe yourself in three adjectives? This is a little technique I've found useful in the management courses I run. Rather than spend time putting everyone through a psychometric test battery - which some poor souls even see as rather threatening (indeed one of my clients even wittily described it as "assault and battery") - I just ask them all to encapsulate their personalities in three adjectives. Quite apart from giving me a snapshot of their characters, it also serves as a bullshit and inadequacy detector. All worthwhile people opt for two strengths and one weakness in their adjectival trio. Anyone giving two weaknesses is pathetically over-anxious, and anyone listing only positive attributes is either bullshitting or hopelessly self-deluded.

I tried the technique on Arabella the other day. She feigned reluctance, suggested that I was playing another one of my "sad bastard psychological games", said that I should call it the Self-Adjectival Description test, so that its acronym would be SAD, and then agreed, but only on condition that I provided three adjectives for myself as well. "We'll write them down, then swap," she said, clearly warming to the task.

I had, of course, thought about this beforehand, but I pretended to ponder hard before settling on my three adjectives. Then we swapped papers. For some unaccountable reason, she guffawed when she saw mine. There was, admittedly, some self-deprecating humour in my choice of Creative, Sensitive, Untidy, but nothing to guffaw about. Then I saw her list: Tolerant, Dependable, Creative. Three positives. In perfect unison, we then both said: "What do you mean, creative?"

My own creativity, of course, is not open to dispute. Quite apart from my near-record score on Cattell's Creative Disposition formula, I have to my name a string of academic papers universally praised for their innovative insights, a management textbook which one reviewer described as "original and thought-provoking", and the word "creative" in my job title. Arabella's only monuments to creativity, however, consist of two sculptures that might gain an honourable mention at a school fete if she filled in the holes and chiselled off some of the sharper edges, and an unstarted novel that she has been "working on" for as long as I have known her.

"Well how would you describe me then?" she asked rather aggressively.

I thought for a moment, then tried to mollify her with: "Attractive, Colourful, Flighty". She said it made her sound like a set of plaster ducks. Then she addressed me as "Mr Arrogant, Self-obsessed and Pachydermatous" and flounced out of the room.

"Flouncy, Over-sensitive and Humourless," I shouted after her, and I think I heard the words "Stupid, Prawn-brained, Moron" before the door slammed.

The last of these, of course, is a noun, not an adjective, which rather confirms her flighty disregard of regulations.

Actually, I'm not really untidy. I just have a very systematic mind that can cope with a high level of superficial disorganisation.

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