I am an incorrigible sticky beak.
Translation from Australian to the Queen’s English – I am a nosy parker.
Further, completely necessary translation – I am a bit of an eavesdropper, particularly when using public transport or sitting in cafes. My excuse is that most people these days speak very loudly and I can’t help but partake of their conversation even when I am definitely trying not to listen.
I did a writing course a few years back and the teacher who was quite a well-known Australian poet admitted that she got her best material from listening to overhearing the conversations of strangers.
Often, when indulging in a bit of eavesdropping, disappointment reigns. All the effort of craning your neck forward at an uncomfortable angle and trying not to crunch your multi-grain toast so you don’t draw attention to yourself often ends up with providing you with nothing more than the various treatments needed for Aunt Edna’s piles or how much Judy and Pete spent on their bathroom tiles. But today, I overheard something that really made me think.
I was in my favourite bookshop – all wooden floors and antique wooden shelves that run from floor to ceiling – with a wonderful secondhand section that is full of little treasures; when I heard two women discussing colour.
‘I am in a green phase at the moment,’ said one. ‘And various shades of brown. The effect is calming, tranquil. I feel closer to nature and the essence of myself. It’s a change from all the black I used to wear. I felt miserable when I wore it.’
‘I know what you mean,’ said the other. ‘Colour has shaped my world.’
She went on to describe the various phases in her life defined not only by music, books, and film, but by the colours she wore or surrounded herself with.
Those women got me thinking about the colour in my own life. I really think they were on to something.
Up until I was about five years old I was heavily into red. Red skirts, red pinafores, red scarves and hats, patent leather shoes. I loved red, not in the passionate angry way that often characterises the colour but in the way of fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood and the red of pixies and elves.
When I was 9, I remember being into purple. My favourite outfit was a purple suede mini skirt with purple lace-up knee-high boots, and a purple blouse with matching suede tasseled waistcoat (it was the ’70s) and I was in love with Marc Bolan from T-Rex. I got the outfit after a visit to London’s Petticoat Lane with my Gran.
The purple phase was replaced by the white phase. In my early teens I was heavily into Victoriana. I wore long, white lace dresses with white ankle boots. And lots of shimmering shawls. I imagined I was a heroine in an Emily Bronte novel or Stevie Nicks. If I dressed like that today I wouldn’t be out of place in a P Diddy video.
In my mid teens I was briefly a surfie chick. Lots of Hawaiian prints and fluoro and sandals the colour of strawberry ice-cream. That phase didn’t last long. It was replaced by the inevitable black upon black upon black, with the attitude to match. The black phase has lasted for over twenty years but I temper it now with greens, jeans and an eclectic collection of rock T-shirts.
Colour has shaped my world in more areas than clothing. In many ways it has shaped my sensibility. As a child I remember the brightness of it, the vivid joy of the colours in the world. Of the elation experienced running out into the garden and gasping at the redcurrants bursting into bloom in the bushes, plush and luscious.
As I grew older the colour hung low on the earth, as if lit from afar. My growing preoccupation with where I fit in the world muted the hues around me to almost a soft shade of pastel. As I searched, waited, and dabbled with disillusion, the world turned sepia like a vintage photograph.
Years later when disaster of one kind or another struck, the world turned monochromatic. It was so startling I could only look at my shoes when I walked for fear of seeing an image so unsettling I would have to run for cover.
I look back at those days not as dark days but as bland, circumspect days where I learnt the meaning of the phrase : you can’t see the forest for the trees. It was an odd time, an introspective time, that prevented me from seeing the myriad colours around me, so busy was I looking inward.
But oh, how times have changed. Colour is everywhere. It assails me, jumping in my path, waving at me from hilltop and sky; ten thousand shades of beauty. How could I have ignored it for so long? How could I not have seen?
Take some time today – even if only for a moment – to see how colour shapes your world. And don’t just smell the roses. See them.