The Compliment Slip Story


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Apart from the sadness loneliness woundedness and humiliation that traditionally accompanies a broken heart I felt betrayed: Shane had got his hair cut into something approaching respectability and had gone into business. First he got me a steady job and while I admit that opening the post in an actuarial firm isn’t exactly...



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The Compliment Slip Story

If you haven’t heard it already, and you probably have, because the world and his granny seem to know about it, here it is. After I left school, Dad swung me a job in a construction office – someone had owed him a favour and the consensus was that it must have been a pretty large favour.

But anyway, there I am, working away, doing my best, being nice to the builders who come in for pretty cash and one day Mr Sheridan, the big boss, throws a cheque on the desk and says, ‘Send to Bill Prescott and stick a compliment slip in the envelope.’

In my defence, I was nineteen, I knew nothing of the language of administration, and luckily the cheque was intercepted before it went out in the post with my accompanying note: ‘Dear Mr Prescott, although I have never met you, I believe you are a very nice man. All the builders speak highly of you.’

How was I to know that sending a compliment slip did not actually involve complimenting anyone? No one had told me and I wasn’t psychic (although I wished I was). It was the kind of mistake any uninitiated person could make, but it became a watershade event. It took pride of place in the family folklore and crystallized everyone’s opinion of me: I was the token flake.

They didn’t mean it unkindly, of course, but it wasn’t easy.

However, everything changed when I met Shane, my soulmate. (It was a long time ago, so long that it was permissible to say that sort of thing without getting sneered at.) Shane and I were delighted with each other because we thought exactly the same way. We were aware of the futures that awaited us – stuck in one place, shackled to dull, stressful jobs because we had to pay the mortgage on some horrible house – and we decided to try to live differently.

So we went travelling, which went down oh-so-badly. Maggie said about us, ‘They’d say that they were going up the road to buy a KitKat and the next time you’d hear from them, they’d be working in a tannery in Istanbul.’ (That never happened.) (I think she must be thinking of the time we went to buy a can of Lilt and decided on a whim to skipper a boat about  the Greek Islands.)

Walsh family mythology made it sound like Shane and I were a pair of work-shy layabouts but working in a cunning factory in Munich was back-breaking work. And running a bar in Greece meant long hours and – worse still – having to be nice to people, which, as everyone knows, is the toughest jobs in the world. Whenever we came home to Ireland, it was all a bit, ‘Ho, ho, ho, here they are, the pair of smelly hippies, coming on the scrounge, lock up your confectionery.’

But it never really got to me – I had Shane and we were cocooned in our own little world and I expected it would stay that way for ever.

Then Shane broke up with me.

Apart from the sadness, loneliness, woundedness and humiliation that traditionally accompanies a broken heart, I felt betrayed: Shane had got his hair cut into something approaching respectability and had gone into business. Admittedly, it was a groovy kind of business, something to do with digital music and CDs, but after his scorning the system for as long as I’d known him, the speed with which he’d embraced it left me reeling.

I was twenty-eight, woth nothing but the fringy skirt I stood up in, and suddenly all the years I’d spent moving from country to country seemed wasted. It was a horrible, horrible time and I ricocheted around like a lost soul, directionless and terrified, which was when Maggie’s husband, Garv, took me under his wing. First, he got me a steady job and while I admit that opening the post in an actuarial firm isn’t exactly scintillating, it was a start.

Then, he conceived me to go to college and suddenly my life had taken off again, moving at speed in a purposeful direction. In a short space of time I learnt to drive, I got a car, I got my hair cut into a proper, medium-maintenance ‘style’. In brief, a little later in the day than most people, I got it together.

 Marian Keyes ‘Anybody Out There’

The Plain Sense of Things 

by Wallace Stevens

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

We Wear the Mask

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Without you

By Adrian Henry

Without you every morning would be like going back to work after a holiday,

Without you I couldn’t stand the smell of the East Lancs Road,

Without you ghost ferries would cross the Mersey manned by skeleton crews,

Without you I’d probably feel happy and have more money and time and nothing to do with it,

Without you I’d have to leave my stillborn poems on other people’s doorsteps, wrapped in brown paper,

Without you there’d never be sauce to put on sausage butties,

Without you plastic flowers in shop windows would just be plastic flowers in shop windows,

Without you I’d spend my summers picking morosely over the remains of train crashes,

Without you white birds would wrench themselves free from my paintings and fly off dripping blood into the night,

Without you green apples wouldn’t taste greener,

Without you Mothers wouldn’t let their children play out after tea,

Without you every musician in the world would forget how to play the blues,

Without you Public Houses would be public again,

Without you the Sunday Times colour supplement would come out in black-and-white,

Without you indifferent colonels would shrug their shoulders and press the button,

Without you they’d stop changing flowers in Piccadilly Gardens,

Without you Clark Kent would forget how to become Superman,

Without you Sunshine Breakfast would only consist of Cornflakes,

Without you there’d be no colour in Magic colouring books,

Without you Mahler’s 8th would be only performed by street musicians in derelict houses,

Without you they’d forget to put the salt in every packet of crisps,

Without you it would be an offence punishable by a fine of up to Ј200 or two months imprisonment to be found in possession of curry powder,

Without you riot police are massing in quiet sidestreets,

Without you all streets would be one-way the other way,

Without you there’d be no one not to kiss good night when we quarrel,

Without you the first Martian to land would turn round and go away again,

Without you they’d forget to change the weather,

Without you blind men would sell unlucky heather,

Without you there would be no landscapes/no stations/no houses/

no chipshops/no quiet villages/no seagulls on beaches/

no hopscotch on pavements/ no night/ no morning, there’d be no city no country

Without you.


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