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[For anyone who has not encountered Meredith previously, let me explain him this way: he is my favourite character. He first visited me when I was fifteen-and-a-half years old (!) and has been ineradicably present ever since. I am fonder of him than I am of some family members. (This will, I'm sure, make sense to all writers of fiction.) Over the years he and I have sort of moulded one another, if that is not too horrid a phrase, so that now, when I look back, I cannot think of us as 'two sides of the same coin' but as something more like 'a forever-entangled wave 'n' particle combo'.]

On the frivolously-solemn occasion of Meredith’s birthday, not to mention it being our twentieth year of mutual mischief, I feel it is highly appropriate to give him the thing he most adores: Attention.

With that in mind, what could be more fitting than to subject the little darling to the famous Proust Questionnaire (or a version of it)?  I can picture him now: wearing his dove grey, because that colour goes so very well with the delicate business of Remembrance, settling himself upon a small Victorian chair (the bedroom kind, as if he were an invalid having a good day), pointing periwinkle eyes in my direction, smiling the smile he reserves for me alone, anticipating his own greatness.  Hands clasped about his knees (ungloved hands, mark you; this is his compliment to me), hat tilted just so, feet neatly together, a general air of happy excitement…  This is the manner in which young Meredith greets the prospect of an extended scrutiny of that most fascinating topic, Himself.

Alright – here goes.

Meddy-riff: good afternoon.  You look well.

Yes, I do rather, don’t I?  This may be deceptive, however.  There is a small possibility that I am actually terribly frail, that these are not roses in my cheeks but the flush of incipient fever…  I wonder, dearest, would it be nicer to do this languishing in bed?

There’s no need to take the Proustian theme that far, silly.

Oh, what a shame.  I look positively adorable in pyjamas.  I’d make a splendid invalid, don’t you think?

Yes, and you frequently do.  Doesn’t it get annoying, though, the queues of admirers turning up with votive offerings?

I suppose it does begin to bore one, after a time.  But an excess of greengrocery is the cue for a resurrection.  (Or do I mean the cucumber?  But no, my supplicants usually bring grapes and peaches… thankfully.  Bringing salad ingredients would be rather insulting.)  Anyway, where was I?  Ah, yes: one should never allow the sickroom to resemble a harvest festival.  About two pounds of soft fruit is the optimum haul, I’d say.  Any more than that and one feels compelled to ask for jam recipes.

But when, Merry, have you ever made jam?!  I cannot recall having seen you open a jar of it, even.

Oh yes, you should never, ever open a jar if you can get someone else to do it for you.  Making someone else feel useful is a lovely compliment to pay them, isn’t it?

You do it to me constantly.

And quite right too.  If I keep you in a good mood, darling one, I may rely on you to portray me in that kindly light that is kindled by the friction of friendship!

From friction to fiction!  What a very worrying phrase that is…

I can’t help it, you know; everything I say sounds rude whether or not I mean it that way.

My dear, I sympathise.  I suffer from the selfsame affliction.  But never mind all that: I think we have exhausted the limits of this preamble.  Why don’t you sit nicely in that chair, and wear the nice outfit you have on?  I can hardly introduce you to strangers in your pyjamas, no matter how adorable you are in them, and if I describe you as an invalid people will worry about catching something…

You may as well warn them about the infectious quality of my joie de vivre.

Consider the assembled company well and truly warned.  And now: on with the questions.

1.    What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being very cosy and snuggly with someone who understands me.

2.    What is your greatest fear?

Germs, boredom (both receiving and giving), insignificance, and loud females.

3.    What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Fickleness.

4.    What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Morality.

5.    Which living person do you most admire?

I don’t know, quite.  You, probably.  You put up with me so beautifully!

6.    What is your greatest extravagance?

Sincerity.  Really!  I appreciate that many, even most, people would damn me for a pretentious, dandified thing; yes, that would be the easiest conclusion to draw.  But you and I, both of us, are overwhelmingly aware, are we not, of the fact that ‘I Am is an Act of Will’ (you revealed that phrase to me, didn’t you?  I thank you for it).  Sincerity is one of those things that defies definition; it is definition, it isn’t a… what’s that term again…?  It isn’t an entity, it’s not discrete in its own right.  Sincerity is a function or facet of other things.  (Gosh, listen to me – all that philosophical stuff you dribble on about must have impinged upon my psyche.  No, I don’t mind; it’ll give me ammunition for my next run-in with that windbag Antoine Jocelyn.)  For some people, Sincerity simply means ‘not trying’ – ‘not resisting’ – ‘not deciding’.  Well, I’m afraid that could never do for me.  One could drift about like an amoeba, rebounding and responding and so forth, but my style of Sincerity demands something a bit more definite.  I choose to be Me, but only because all action implies choice, as all conscience implies choice.  (Oh, there I go again – Antoine J. will be horrified!)

Anyway – yes – Sincerity is my ultimate extravagance, because I do it so intensely and yet other people think me insincere.  (Perhaps I should have plumped for Irony?)

7.    What is your current state of mind?

Celebratory!  It’s my birthday, and our Jubilee.

8.    What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Being ‘down to earth’.  Useful in gardeners and road-menders, but quite unnecessary in one’s friends.

9.    On what occasion do you lie?

When good taste requires it – for example, during boring conversations.  A good lie, my dear, is a gift; one well-deserved by all too many.

10.    What do you most dislike about your appearance?

I dislike nothing about my appearance.  I don’t mean that I am the most beautiful person ever – only that everything about the way I look is Just Right.

11.    Which living person do you most despise?

Oh well, hatred does not come easily to me these days.  With a little effort, when in the right frame of mind, I could despise Harry Mackenzie – but he’s dead, so he doesn’t count.  The same goes for John Groves, unfortunately.  I certainly despised Roderick for ages, but I seem to have forgiven him lately… he couldn’t help but break my heart because he hadn’t the courage to follow his own.  More to be pitied, then.

However, I will say that it’s always worth despising Antoine Jocelyn.  One might as well make that the default setting of one’s temper, just in case.

12.    What is the quality you most like in a man?

Mischief.

13.    What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Subtlety.  (Oh, shame; doesn’t Proust want to know what I like best in an epicene being?  Anyway, the answer is probably something like ‘nice hips’.)

14.    Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

‘How unpleasant!’ – the times demand its constant repetition.  ‘I hope you don’t mind.’ – it’s better than admitting that I don’t care if you do or not.  ‘Oh, I should, if I were you.’ – when people ask for advice, usually all they really want is encouragement, and it saves a lot of time to give it immediately.  ‘Dear, dearest, darling, darlingest’ – each has its specific tone and meaning, and they are also very useful if you’ve forgotten someone’s name… or never knew it in the first place.

15.    Are you hard to make conversation with?

Oh... yes, I rather think so.  Isn’t it precious, needling the smalltalkers?!  I love doing that.  The best way, if you want to know, is to gaze into their eyes whilst they're droning on about the weather, the cricket score, little Tarquin's latest triumph in basket-weaving, or whatever it might be, and then heave a romantical sigh and say, "God, I love it when you talk dirty." (Of course, this is best when you don't know the person at all.)  Then, whilst they're goggling at you all strangulated and appalled, you whip out your little notebook (you have a little notebook, of course you do) and say "Please let me immortalise you!  I want this moment to live forever!"  Then you inexplicably draw a hay cart, before bowing and exiting stage left.  Never fails.

16.    What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Myself.  (Stupid question.)

17.    When and where were you happiest?

I’m happy most of the time, these days (I make quite sure of that).  I could talk more about some of my most felicitous experiences, but wouldn’t that give the plot away?

18.    Which talent would you most like to have?

The ability to endure boredom.  I don’t mean ‘lack of stimulus’ or ‘nothing to do’; I can cope beautifully with those.  I mean, I wish I could tolerate human beings more graciously.

19.    If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My inability to sleep well at night.  Insomnia is a shocking bore, isn’t it?

20.    What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being Me.  I don’t think anyone else could manage it.  There have been times when even I have struggled.  But constant practice, consciously applied, works wonders, don’t you find?

21.    If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

If I came back as a Thing, it’d have to be… a posy-holder for the buttonhole.  I rarely fail to crown my outfit with a flower; it’s one of my most cherished personal motifs.  As a Person… I hope I’d return as slightly-less-mad version of myself, so that I could be just as brilliant as I already am, but avoid some of my horribler mistakes.

22.    Where would you like to live?

I like my current place, it suits me perfectly and has done for years.  And I like being able to flit about a little – I am quite the little caterpillar, really.  I store up all the strength I need, feeding on my home plant; then I like a little bit of hermitage, disdaining society; finally, I emerge resplendent and fly off somewhere else for a bit.  The thing that saddens me is that few people can appreciate all of these stages.  Some people like me when I’m doing the rounds of Moortown, bothering the usual set, being domestic, and so on.  Others adore me at imago, bold, flirtatious, vivid.  Too few people can enjoy me when I’m chrysaliding.  What a shame that is – when I find that special someone who will hibernate with me, I shall fall forever in love.

23.    What is your most treasured possession?

Usually the thing I just bought.  I have many nice things, but I choose them with immense care – I am not profligate.  But I suppose the bestest-best thing is… all my fine clothes.  And the shoes and hats and accessories.  My… plumage.

24.    What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Being measured against the standards of the Ordinary.

25.    What is your favourite occupation?

I have only ever had one occupation, and that is painting.  I enjoy it very much, but really I suspect that is because I don’t have to do it unless I want to.  Having said that, it does sort of define me: the basis of visual art is putting one thing next to another thing in the way that looks and feels Just Right.  I know you understand – you and your Turn of Phrase!  Me pictor, you scriptor; it’s all the same in the end.  So – yes; favourite occupation: the arrangement of visual stimuli in the service of Meaning.  Or at least, Entertainment.

26.    What is your favourite journey?

I love the stroll from my flat to Moortown High Street, especially if it’s a fine Spring day.  It’s very Astaireable, then; one may stir in a tap or three to wake the walk to a dance, and sing as one goes.  I never care who stares at me on days like that.  Stare away, you may learn something!

27.    What is your most marked characteristic?

Oh gosh.  All my characteristics are marked; isn’t that what makes them characteristics?  I don’t know… perhaps my taste?  I mean, I apply the filter of my taste to all situations, and I really do make exceptions exceptionally.  Few manage such constancy in life, don’t you find?

28.    What do you most value in your friends?

Patience.

29.    Who are your favourite writers?

E.F. Benson and Saki.  (And, for entirely personal reasons, you.)

30.    Who is your hero of fiction?

I adore Clovis Sangrail, and have a sneaking suspicion that he might adore me too.  Well… one can dream.

31.    Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Alexander.  Mostly for reasons of being handsome, fragrant and always being able to rely on Hephaistion.

32.    Who are your heroes in real life?

Fred Astaire, Rex Whistler, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

33.    What are your favourite names?

Well, my own are quite alright as names go.  Meredith Eustace Churchill Agamemnon Quallinge.  I like to be called Meredith, Merry, MQ; my special friends (that includes you, Cosméraldo) have come up with all manner of interesting pet-names (I like to hear you call me Merry-diff or Meddy-riff or Merrything, for example).  Dear old ’Cisco calls me Murkydeath sometimes.  (I retaliate by addressing him as Sissy-cocoa, naturally.)

More intimate pet-names abound, though I hardly think this the place to share them.  Though Blue-Eyes is rather nice.  Someone addressed a poem to me in that guise once.

As for other people’s names… I ought to mention my favourite sister Maggie.  I will miss her forever.  She will never be forgotten.  Magdala Robin Yseult Petra Quallinge.  (Yes, yes, I know… the best you can say for our parents is that they meant well.)

34.    What is it that you most dislike?

Ordinariness.  Leave that to people who enjoy it, I say.  If you’re going to bother to exercise taste (and, as stated previously, I have made that my religion), then exercise it in excluding the ordinary, or at least elevating the ordinary to its furthest summit, there to become extraordinary.

35.    What is your greatest regret?

This is very hard for me to admit, and I only do so because it’s you who asks.  I deeply regret much of what happened between me and Harry Mackenzie.  I’m sad that he was my first love (although love is not an appropriate word, really).  I wish it could have been… well, someone else.  I regret terribly the wilful surrender of my innocence, before I knew its true value.

36.    How would you like to die?  (Sorry, Meredith; this question feels most insensitive, after that earlier mention of your much-mourned sister.)

Not to worry, Cosmétina.  Death is inevitable, as well as being inconvenient.

As to my own choice of death… oh, lord.  If you had asked me that twenty years ago, you’d have got a very silly answer indeed.  (I did try to orchestrate my own demise on more than one occasion, but the Universe must have had other ideas because it never quite went to plan.  Anyway, life got better and I grew out of the habit.)  Now I think I’d like to die the most peaceful way imaginable… in my sleep, of old age (just old age, not one of those horrid diseases of senescence).

37.    What is your motto?

Always do what you want – provided you know why you want it.  (Didn’t I learn that from you?)

Meredith, thank you, a thousand times, for being just as you are, these twenty years.  And thank you for letting me keep you company.  Please know that I love you.

Yours affectionately,

Cosmé


Soundtrack: this song attempts to replicate the effect Merry imagines himself having on anyone who gazes into his remarkable blue eyes. ;-)


Eavesdrop, snoop, and sigh with yearning...

This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

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