March 09, 2010

Diffident Dealings; or, Cobblers!

I would not want to convey the impression that Daniel Deronda is the only book I know, but it is the book on my nightstand, and since my library currently resides in another country I find myself returning to it often. Nor should I complain, for George Eliot is by no means a meagre resource on matters manly. Today’s errands caused me to look up a certain passage, as I reflected on my reserved disposition in the face of compound annoyance:

…a great deal of life goes on without strong passion: myriads of cravats are carefully tied, dinners attended, even speeches made proposing the health of august personages, without the zest arising from strong desire. And a man may make a good appearance in high social positions – may be supposed to know the classics, to have his reserves on science, a strong though repressed opinion on politics, and all the sentiments of an English gentleman, at a small expense of vital energy. Also, he may be obstinate or persistent at the same low rate, and may even show sudden impulses which have a false air of daemonic strength because they seem inexplicable, though perhaps their secret lies merely in the want of regulated channels for the soul to move in – good and sufficient ducts of habit without which our nature easily turns to mere ooze and mud, and at any pressure yields nothing but a spurt or a puddle.
The supermarket, no doubt suffering under Barack Obama’s socialist grip, had run out of food. Men and women harangued the long-suffering staff: ‘where is the food? Why is there no food here?’ A delivery, so they were informed, was awaited (actually, they were told that a delivery was waited on, instead of for, but I will hold back my ire over such grammatical bagatelles in the spirit of general diffidence with which I confronted my day). Faces of incredulity were shot back at the redundant shelf-stackers. ‘Has it come to this? Has America come to this?’

Yes, we have no bananas.

I only wanted some bananas and some Greek yoghurt with honey, but there had been a rush on these staples and the shelves lay bereft of nourishment. I left the acrimony behind, as if by some strange Lamarckian process my soul remembered the Blitz. Wailing and crying does not rebuild one’s house. Reserve allows for the necessary welling of strength and courage, and with these qualities, and with uncomplaining graft, one rebuilds one’s house.

Off to the cobblers for me. My Chelsea boots were worn to the quick. I thought a place I’d seen in Harvard Square would be reliable. I should have known not to judge a book by its cover, even though it does have a lovely art nouveau shop front, in wood and plate glass, dating to 1913. First of all, the door was locked. More socialist cutbacks? I waited, diffidently. When the cobbler appeared, he unlocked the door and then waved a cursory finger at me to come in. Not sure why he didn’t open the door for me, but I pressed on. Within 45 seconds he had talked up the price for soles alone on the Chelsea boots from $47 to $80, with all kinds of nonsense about having to ‘build up the toe’. With the heels on top I was looking at $110 for repairs to shoes that had cost me $90 (half price, of course). I tried not to sneer, and told him rather plainly that his quote was ridiculous. Telling me to suit myself, he tossed my shoes back at me across his tasteful counter, and I quietly left his tasteful shop, wondering if the real cobbler was bound and gagged in the back. Perhaps this was a narrow escape.

Retreating to the library, I simmered gently within earshot of an Israeli fellow who talked so loudly on his telephone that it is some wonder he even needed one. I resolved to wait until he had finished his conversation – that is only polite – before pointing out to him the seven signs instructing him not to engage in telephone conversations. He carried on at length, however, so I moved calmly to another room without huffs, puffs, or performances.

In short, I have held together my vessels of mud and ooze. I returned home to find the most marvellous testimonial (duly posted) from ‘Sonny’, whom I do not know, and raised to him a glass over dinner. I did so, he will no doubt be heartened to learn, with no great expense of vital energy.


  1. You put me in mind of a stanza in Marvell's Horatian Ode.

    He nothing common did or mean
    upon that memorable scene,
    but with his keener eye
    the axe's edge did try.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation regarding Ms. Eliot on matters manly. I just purchased Daniel Deronda from my local booksellers.


  3. It is long and at times difficult - the characters do their level best to be unlikeable - but ultimately well worth the time spent, I think.


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