By MONICA REDLICH AFRIEND said to me the other clay as we walked through Kensington Gardens, " Have you ever noticed that every woman we hear talking as we go by is giving a detailed account of some grievance ? " " Oh; rubbish," I answered rather coldly, wishing I had thought of it first. " All right," he said. " Listen." We walked on. From a confused background of " He said " and " She said " and " I said to her, I said " there emerged, sure enough, nothing but the most stark and spectacular tragedy. Maids would not dust the top of the piano. Lifts broke down, doctors were unsympathetic, husbands.
laughed, aunts were mean about money. Employers swore. Tradesmen cheated. The whole placid scene, from the Round Pond to the banks of the Serpentine, was peopled by women who were not in fact there at all, but hours or days or weeks away in some past that was full of misery.
Nor were they unique. There can be few talents more universal than this ability to pick out the bleakest, dirtiest patches of the vast extent of time and firmly settle down in them. Men—some men, at any rate—are quite as good at it as women. One whom I know can never enjoy a meal in any of the better London re- staurants because his father (who comes up twice a year). always hurts his ' feelings by taking him to an A.B.C. From every club window in clubland one might hear, at the proper time of the morning, the immemorial tale which begins " . . . and the fellow actually had the effrontery . . . ." We may take our pleasures sadly, but we know how to revel in our grief.
. Most people prefer the past to frolic in, for obvious. reasons. It is all there already. It exists, completely.
prepared for them. One glance back from the dull,' comfortable ground of the present, and they can rush into the nasty corner where in-laws objected to a marriage now twenty years old, or the grim 'little patch where a certain colonel used an opprobrious epithet. And if all else fails there is always one's childhood. But for those unfor- tunate enough to have had a perfectly happy childhood, undarkened schooldays, and an agreeable adult life, there still, luckily, remains the future. A friend of mine, the mother of a ten-months-old baby, already lies awake at night wondering what kind of girls he will bring home in eighteen years' time. A certain young man, less burdened with ambition than anyone else I know, explained to me that he was terrified of becoming ambitious for fear he should grow like Napoleon. Nothing is impossible, in the future. Gold hair might turn green, rabbits die, houses topple over, businesses fail, friends find our party boring, guests of honour forget to turn up. Mere probabilities, like a war or a revolution, are nothing compared with the horrors we can conjure for ourselves in the accommodating vastness of what has yet to come.
The present exists, admittedly : but nineteen-twen- tieths of us do not live in it. If a pleasant occasion does crop up, we spend half of it bitterly regretting that we bothered to be so nervous beforehand, and the other half thinking how sorry we shall be when it is over. If friends come back to us after a long absence, we are reduced to tear-dimmed misery at the thought of how much we missed them when they were away. Only at one time do we really take account of the present, and that is when it turns nasty. Provide anyone with acute indigestion, or three consecutive wrong numbers, and he will instantly forget that there was ever a time when lie did not have indigestion (or wrong numbers) and repudiate the sugges- tion that he may ever in the future be free from them. Generally speaking, the present is a poor sort of thing —a negligible instant between the looming future and the devastated past ; but no one can deny that it has its moments.