Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a young man who caused me a certain amount of aggravation on account of the fact that I did not fancy him. Then a few years back we arrived at a party and there he was. He had let himself go to the point of resembling the Michelin man.
K walked over, shook him warmly by the hand, and said, ‘Good to see you looking so prosperous.’
In that moment of winning charm it was clear that a score had been settled.
How rarely, though, it pays to comment on appearances. No one likes criticism, and we English can rarely take or give a compliment without exaggeration. In fact, if you want an honest opinion, you need to ask a child.
Yesterday my daughter went next door to play, and as soon as our neighbour opened the door the Impster said, ‘I love your necklace.’ And then she said to her, ‘You look quite pretty today.’ My neighbour said the ‘quite’ made her chuckle all day.
Only a four year old can dish out such faint praise and have it taken as a compliment. But you know it’s sincere, and it’s invaluable just for that fact.
You have to proceed with caution though, as a friend of mine learnt to her cost. She asked her four year old what she thought of her new fringe and was told, ‘I think you look a bit like a horse mummy.’ It’s hard to walk with your head held high after that.
Rewind to our pre-Christmas party. The Impster and I have shopped for the ultimate party dress, and truthfully, she looks stunning.
Seven thirty pm. Guests arrive and I hear, 'Look at me! Don't I look dazzling?'
I tell myself something must be done about this child (and her curious vocabulary), and I embark upon:
Tricky lesson number two: always tell the truth, except where modesty is required, or where haircuts are concerned.
‘Why?’ says the Impster.
‘Because it’s boastful,’ I explain.
Oh how much you have to learn my child. White lying – or diplomacy as we prefer to call it – is a hard lesson to teach one who has been schooled in honesty. But for the moment, she is still able to get away with the truth, and perhaps I should make the most of it too. If I’m brave enough, she could even improve my appearance.