DJ Taylor: Arch manipulator Trisha Parkinson constantly demands that a fuss should not be made

 

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There is perhaps a slight feeling among her many friends that, at 79, Mrs Patricia Parkinson is too old to be calling herself Trisha.

Her husband would almost certainly not have approved, but the late Mr Parkinson has been dead these 20 years, a good decade before his wife's transformation into a spry, bright-eyed, incorrigibly juvenile old lady whose main aim in life, to judge from her conversation, is to ensure that a fuss should not be made of her.

This tendency to loudly proclaimed self-effacement is particularly noticeable on visits to her substitute family of nephews and nieces (Mrs Parkinson is childless), which are distinguished by a relentless determination that no one shall put themselves out on her account. Film, television, recreation generally, mean nothing to her, and it is her delight to occupy the smallest and least comfortable chair in the corner of the lounge. "You mustn't disturb the children because of me," she assures her hosts on Saturday evenings, "but if there is just the tiniest opportunity to watch that clever Miranda girl when they've finished with their cartoons, I should really be very grateful."

The upshot of this, of course, is that the family ends up watching Miranda, but no one, having seen Mrs Parkinson conduct these negotiations, could positively say that she stage-managed the business to suit herself.

It is the same with food and drink. "Now, I really don't want anyone to think for a moment that I need special attention," she will declare, "but if I could have just the smallest piece of toast, with perhaps some butter and a little marmalade, I should be perfectly happy." The family may be breakfasting on croissants, and there may not be any marmalade to hand, but it is surprising how often Mrs Parkinson manages to procure a menu of her own devising.

Needless to say, Mrs P makes a good impression on visitors. People who encounter her on these occasions are invariably charmed by the interest she takes in their families and professional lives, if sometimes a little puzzled to discover, 20 minutes later, that, despite her protests that the offer is entirely unnecessary, they have agreed to drive her somewhere or retrieve her clock from the menders.

In her defence, were anyone to tell her that her constant demands that a fuss should not be made constitute, in effect, the making of a fuss, she would be profoundly shocked.

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