I spent half an hour tonight attempting to 'Madmen myself'; that is, to create an avatar based on the hit US show. I don't like photographs of myself as a rule, not because I am picky but because I am decidedly un-pic-y, ie not very photogenic at all.
Great, I thought, I can use the avatar generator instead to create a general impression of me. A flattering but comic sketch of myself where I look like me as drawn by whomever did the title sequence on Bewitched. Turns out I just don't have a 60s enough nose - all I could get right were the (decidedly) 60s tits and two accessories: a pair of specs on a chain and a forgotten, glamorous, now given up fag.
It is hard, though, to get a measure of what we look like and to whom. People's impressions of us are so strange. To Newborn I expect I'm still an enormous pair of knockers with a half-awake moon face on top. To my Uncle, he revealed last Christmas, I'll always be the original Hermione, all well-meant bossiness, massive messy hair and eyebrows. He's not far wrong.
Spider-boy occasionally says I'm beautiful. But he says that to all the girls, and most of the boys too. Especially his Grandad (my Father), who he called 'so so beautiful' this week. But Spider-boy like all children sees me refracted back through the prism through which I view him. I was explaining what university is today, and told him it was a place you go to learn lots and lots about one thing. He had been criticising my storytelling and as a slightly peeved English graduate I asked him what he thought I studied. 'Was it me?' he asked, sure that was the only likely (and worthwhile?) thing for me to know all about.
But back to the avatar, which only really looks like the now non-smoker me in the curve of my bosom where some thick rimmed specs are nestled. And it got me thinking about glasses. I wear glasses, like my Mum, and have taken to letting them hang round my neck librarian style so I don't lose them. They are clearly important. I need them to see, of course, but I don't need to actually wear specs, I could have surgery or use lenses. But I don't have contacts (although my Mum and sisters all do). I wear glasses though I'm not even sure they suit me, and here's why.
I remember being in a London station (London Bridge?) on the day my Mummy first got contacts. She must have been around 23/24. Very young, and very beautiful. She had always had large plastic framed glasses, being a student in the 1970s. When she lost them and revealed her lovely eyes floating in her milky face what did I say? Not 'you're beautiful Mummy', but 'I don't like it'. I didn't like the new face, unframed by specs, at all, as it wasn't mine.
Mum has the sort of darling 60s face which should have a pill box hat on a crop of her glorious ginger mane. And which photographs nicely especially when she smiles. She looks fine with glasses and incredible without. I was no accurate critic then but I'm beginning to think my pre-school self is alive and well in my face fashion choices, I'm emulating the mothering I got from my mother, right down to copying her face.
Glasses are everyday objects. The wonderful JK Rowling, a heroine of mine for many reasons which go beyond getting kids to read 800 page novels and into her castle and her normalness and her political donations, may sex them up but we all know really they are very staid and humble and not that flashy.
But the whole issue puts me in mind of my favourite film. And my second favourite bit in it: a scene where a teen lad, Harold, is wooing his almost octogenarian girlfriend Maude and she explains her unusual choice of favourite bird. Maud is as game a bird that ever breathed in cinema, and her shtick is most certainly celebrating the transformative beauty in what is commonly cast aside as ugly or everyday.
"Dreyfus once wrote that on Devil's Island he would see the most glorious birds. Many years later in Brittany he realized they had only been seagulls," she says, surveying the cawing beasts swooping at the rubbish dump in front of them. "To me," she adds, "they will always be glorious birds."