IT is in contemplation of our social customs that I am often reminded of the meringue, which exploded into a snowstorm of dust, when, on the final straight to the drooling mouth of an eager boy, it was intercepted by his severely knuckled mother -- a follower of John and Charles Wesley, who herself screeched Methodist hymns, while punishing the keys on the family piano that sat in fear in a dark corner of their poshest room.
It had been one of those awkward occasions at which the adults and children gathered around the same table in dainty clothes, not knowing what to say to each other. And we all smiled nervously, hoping that we wouldn’t make rude noises sucking our pop through a straw or sipping tea from bone china cups.
To make matters worse, much worse, and for reasons, understood only by the Devil Himself, the meringues outnumbered the people by one. And the one in question remained on the plate waiting, its sides swollen with cream. After a decent time interval had past, the boy, who had logic on his side, reached a trifle stealthily for the wretched confection. At that moment his mother’s hand shot across the table like a bolt from a crossbow, shattering the poor meringue. She had acted so abruptly, she said, because he hadn’t offered it to me first, though I had shown no desire to eat it.
But her gesture had turned a rather dull afternoon into a war. Of course, the meringue itself was instantly inedible, as it had sprayed, squirted and crumbled over a wide area of table and carpet. So the mother was furious with the boy for trying to devour it. And he hated her for humiliating him. But he was even more angry with me for being favoured with first refusal on the remaining, and now defunct, meringue. My mother, normally a peaceable soul, was very cross with them both for drawing me into the squabble -- and I wanted to go home.
A few days ago a friend, who had just completed a routine morning of scrubbing, carrying and humping rupture-weight furniture from room to room, sneaked into his eyrie to listen to the final piece of music composed by Mozart. However, his cunning retreat had been trailed by his wife. “Switch that bloody racket down,” she bellowed from the hall. But then, with a gentle smile, she realised that love hangs on the ability of the one to tolerate the quirks of the other.
Life is so complicated. Consider for a moment the miseries faced by the secretary who has to arrange for five people to be at the same place at the same time, so that they can discuss something vital to their club or office. They hop about, rubbing their heads while consulting diaries. It seems a simple task and yet it is almost impossible. Maybe that is why diplomacy is such a prized talent.
Man has achieved many miracles. A few of us have walked on the moon. Others have made the deserts bloom. We can travel huge distances between breakfast and lunch, but can we decide whose turn it is to do the washing up?
The meringues of life are all around us, though on a vastly greater scale. When I see the trouble spots of the world, where people fight over land, possessions, religious beliefs and ancient differences, I see all the natural generosity and genius of man being lost because they lack wise counsel.
To live in society bound by diplomatically-guided democracy is to enjoy advantages incalculable in their scale. God bless the diplomats. Without them we would be like two worms on a foggy night, one burrowing from the East and the other from the West, until they meet in the middle. How would the first one know if the second one was a good egg? How would they shake hands? How would they dance? How would they decide to which of them the Earth belongs? Well, I exaggerate a little, but I think you get the drift. We need diplomats to divide the crumbly meringue into equal pieces.
LISTEN to David Charters on his picture podcasts at www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk