Annalisa Barbieri: It takes practice to be this imperfect


I grew up with two mantras ringing in my ears.

I grew up with two mantras ringing in my ears. "Could do better", which was on all my school reports, and "don'ta tella everyonea your biziness", as told me by my mother, invariably as she held a knife by the blade while using the handle to bash up pieces of meat (Italians love to tenderise). But I did: I have told everyone my business, in all its imperfect detail.

Relationships have been a particularly rich source of such vignettes, and I have always told people exactly what is going on. This will often elicit a response along the lines of: "Really? We never row/we have sex every day/David can always open a cupboard and immediately find what he's looking for without involving me and driving me to the EDGE OF MADNESS." Thus leaving me feeling utterly imperfect and lacking.

I remember once, a long, long time ago when I was really stupid, comparing my relationship of the time to a friend's (one of the "no, we never argue" brigade who had also "found the perfect man"), before starting to pick mine apart and deciding it was rubbish. Years later I found out that her "perfect life with her perfect man" was all a front and it was, actually, an entirely ordinary little relationship. This didn't make me happy (well, just a bit), but it did make me realise that some people are the Perfects; some, like me, are the Imperfects.

The Perfects have perfect photos on display of happy, perfect moments in their lives (which - have I mentioned this? - are perfect). The Imperfects have rolls of undeveloped film all over the house and they can't remember what any of them are of. The Perfects are also stoic, something I have always wanted to be, but drama gets the better of me. (I want to say, "Labour was fine, fine" when people ask me, but "I nearly died in childbirth" is so much better value.)

In a conversation about how your life/job/relationship is rubbish, the Perfects either nod sympathetically but never contribute (thus making you spill even more), or they use points of your imperfect life (which you have willingly given them) to launch details of how staggeringly perfect their life is in comparison. No, they have never been ripped off by a garage, their holiday was bliss, they don't have trouble with their weight despite eating like a horse. They always love their jobs; and their babies always sleep through - baby-rearing brings out a new dimension in the Perfects.

I keep telling myself not to give the Perfects more fodder to make me feel crap ("must try harder, must not tell everyone my business"), because I always leave their company feeling just so unglossy. It doesn't help that they seem to have specially designed bathroom mirrors that show up your every open pore, grey hair and burst blood vessel; I know this because I like to look for signs of imperfection in their bathroom cabinets (maybe some haemorrhoid cream? Some part of them must be human). The Perfects' house is, of course, always interior-magazine perfect, and it was also a steal ("We bought at just the right time"). Naturally, there are 100 top-rated schools nearby and the neighbours are lovely. No, never any problem with noise.

In my more philosophical moments I wonder just how imperfect your life has to be to pretend it's that perfect. But, by my own rationale, I am very happy to say that I have no idea.

Confessions of a four-wheel driver

Once upon a time I drove a little car that had the turning circle of a London taxi. As any Triumph Herald driver will know, the car was a Triumph Herald. People used to wave at me, and grown men would grow misty-eyed. But I've always hankered after a big four-wheeler. Aged five, my bedroom walls were plastered with pictures of Range Rovers cut out from catalogues that I had sent off for. ("Dear Sirs, I am thinking of purchasing a Range Rover. Please send me a brochure.")

Now I am a fisherman AND a mother - and you really do need lots of stuff when you are both. There are the seven rods for any river eventuality, and two types of wellingtons (summer and winter), the picnic hamper the size of a boarding-school girl's trunk (snacks are vital on a no-fish day). And then there's the baby stuff: my breasts, my baby and some nappies.

So now I drive a six-year-old Jeep with blacked-out windows, and the London Mayor Ken Livingstone hates me. In fact, everyone who doesn't own a four-wheeler hates me. No one waves any more. All they say is, "What do you need such a big car for?" ("To hunt elephants with" is my new riposte.)

Their main point of concern seems to be petrol consumption, but the Triumph Herald was just as thirsty as the Jeep - averaging around 25mpg. As for big, a Jag is three human-feet longer than my car. Doesn't Ken drive a Jag? I mean, doesn't he get driven in one?

Ken came to driving late, and men who come to cars late, well they're angry, aren't they? Like having been virgins for too long. They know they've left it too late, and they're too prescriptive and not instinctive enough.

Ken probably hates four-wheelers because he can't drive or park them. I can't really do either, either, but I have a great flip-down vanity mirror with lights that dim up and down, and I can change my daughter's nappy in the boot without having to go to horrid stinky toilets and risk catching typhoid.

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