I think not. The two are invariably one-and-the-same in my experience. They’re the women who are quick to volunteer for charities – mining the experience forever after for moral capital, all profits their own.
The women who turn up at night shelters to prepare and serve the evening meal for two dozen homeless men (and a few women. Oh, yes, Britain’s only growth industry: homeless girls and women). Gosh, isn’t that nice of these dear ladies – for, let it never be forgotten, ladies they are – the Ladies Muck and Bountiful? Aren’t these Ladies wonderful? More than kind, they are: a fathomless source of maternal goodness, generosity and selflessness, the Ladies M (& B).
When they dash in, conspicuously caring expressions firmly in place, avoiding the eyes of the men (and handful of women), interacting as little as possible with the professionals (who, sighing, regard them in return with the beady eye of bitter experience). When they dish up, fast, eyes averted – refusing to return the gaze of the avid faces in the queue on the other side of the hatch. When casting their pinnies into the linen basket they rush off, relief writ large all over their carefully made-up faces.
Back to their lovely homes and their husbands (usually described as ‘grumpy’. Well, wouldn’t you be, having to live with such a paragon of conspicuous virtue?) and those of their children who haven’t ‘fled the nest’ (‘fled’? Aren’t nests left either in flight or freefall? In these cases, yes indeed …). Back they go, back to warmth and safety, familiarity – and gleeful deployment of cliches as protection, the better to shield them from anything that threatens to penetrate the surface of their even-tenor’d lives. Back they go, the Ladies M (& B).
Leaving behind a rest-room full of people – who are people. Who are recognisably human. Who have the same need for acknowledgement and respect as do these ladies, the Mucks, the Bountifuls. People sitting around the stained, battered formica-topped tables, whose feelings of isolation and desolation are vastly increased by the attitude to them displayed by the good Ladies M & B.
The Ladies M & B, who will not hesitate to do such a thing as take in off the street Martina, a homeless East European teenager, providing her with free bed and board for months. Complaining throughout the duration of her residence about how Martina eats them out of house and home. Sneaking down to their basement kitchen at night to launch shock-and-awe assaults on their fridge while the family sleeps the sleep of the just, Martina gorges. The family never sees Martina, only the half-empty fridge she leaves in her wake.
Yet the same Lady M (& B) demurs when asked by a friend of decades at whose wedding she played a major role, for the same room, now free –
“On a temporary basis, ’till I get settled and find somewhere more permanent … at a fair rent, of course. If I get the job … which, of course, means I’d be out all day, and sometimes at weekends too.”
The friend wouldn’t be in Lady M (& B)’s way; no, not at all. And would naturally be paying her way, for hasn’t she always done just that? And isn’t she known for doing just that? Lady M (& B) remains silent, head turned away, her only response a slight moue of distaste. So the answer’s clear, if unspoken.
That’s Ladies M (& B) all over: no kudos in merely helping an old mucker, is there? Surely everybody does that … don’t they?
Oh, Ladies M (& B): if you don’t, then who does?
The Ladies M (& B) who are Active in the Parish, and sit chatting and comparing and contrasting offspring, houses and gardens until they become an incoherent blur:
“My little Willie’s little Willie got 11 GCSEs – all at Grade A.”
“Really? My daughter’s little Willie got 12 Grade As …”
“You’re so lucky with your ankylosing spondilitis. Try as I might, I simply can’t get mine to grow …”
“Yes, but you’ve got that super tertiary syphilis in your house, you lucky thing, you! Must have cost a packet!”
“Louisa’s famous for her acute cerebral sterco-lithiasis – aren’t you, Louisa, dear?”
“Well, I don’t know, really. I’ve rather got into erisypilas and oedema recently, actually.”
Ah, the tinkly, twinkling tones of the Ladies M (& B) at play, like so many shimmering wind chimes – and about as substantial. Does the heart – well, if not good exactly, then certainly something stimulating to the blood pressure. While the Vicar’s wife slaves away in her wholly-inadequate kitchen, wincing with pain from an injured shoulder while negotiating slippery tiled passageways with heavy trays – and all to serve the Ladies M (& B) who are, of course, the backbone of the Parish. The Ladies M (& B) all sit there, smiling with their glossed mouths, doing nothing but talk – they do it so well.
The Lady M (& B) whose nice, cosy life is punctuated by Good Works – occasionally, you understand, for she has Important Family Things to Do. Oh, how does she do it all? How does she do it? A mystery! Well, having plentiful ‘help’ is part of the answer, of course. But dear Lady M (& B), she’s now training to be a counsellor. Well, yes – isn’t everybody? Everybody among the Mucks and Bountifuls, that is. Well, no: this one’s hitting the moral compass bang on the spot – she’s going for [hush now, soften your tone and be respectful] hospice care.
At Lady M (& B)’s hospice of choice, the dying will have the pleasure of being monitored and encouraged towards their last moments by the delightful, the fragrant, the groomed from the tip of her fastidious nose to her dear little tippy-toes Lady M (& B). Aren’t they the lucky ones?
Oh dear Lady M (& B), who’ll elbow an outsider to her clique out of the way, to deliver an invitation to friends who were guilty of such bad taste and temerity as to stray far enough from the fold to talk to an otherwise excluded other. An outsider whose crime is to be alone and poor in later life. Who might have appreciated an invitation to coffee or a drink. Who, although used to spending days, months, birthdays, anniversaries and Christmases alone, might have liked to have felt welcome – if only for a fleeing moment – for a change. A change of mind, of scene – of heart, even.
But dear Lady M (& B) has her mind on far higher things – of course she does! And all around her the chorus rages, “dear Lady M (& B), how good she is! She’s marvellous – really she is: maaaaarvellous!”
And “I don’t know how she does it!” they exclaim, admiringly. How stupid – of course they know how she does it. If they bothered to look further, they’d know why she does it as well.
Me, I don’t know how she can live with herself. I couldn’t, in her shoes. But then, I can live with myself – maybe that’s just as well, too.
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