There was a time when Floorman was emphatically younger, and I remember being surprised to see him with his stick when he was going to take a girl out to dine and dance.
But when I realized the girl was Trina I understood. She was very pretty in a ferocious way but she never gave you frost-bite, like Vikki. She was quite a gay little girl in the secretarial pool, but in the evenings she darkly turned to thoughts of love, and it made her look as solemn as a silent-film heroine. Glumness as a backbone to sex is an anti-woo sign in itself: but it was worse than that, for almost every evening out with Trina had to end in an ‘atmosphere.’ Trina liked her escort to be on his toes, to say the least of it. More specifically she wanted him, whatever the situation, in some way to suggest that he was chivalrously active in her defence. Suddenly her eyes would open wide, and she would lower her head. Floorman would know what was up. Some man was ‘insulting’ her.
‘Do you see that awful man?’ she would say. No-one could possibly see him, in the dim light of the night club.
‘Those awful eyes, staring at me. They seem to be boring through my chest. It makes me feel as if I were naked.’
Trina often was in fact unusually naked, in the evening. Adorable, but not within a thousand miles of making me, still less Floorman, want to get up and start something beginning ‘Look here Sir.’ I myself tried some pointedly admonitory remarks like ‘the girl who is fortunate enough to possess a sophistication comparable with her beauty somehow manages to insulate herself from the possibility of unwelcome attentions. But while congratulating myself on this phrase I had to admit that Trina hadn’t taken in a word of it.
‘It’s horrible... that man’s expression...’
But Floorman wasn’t going to have any of that sort of thing. At the first sign of an Eyes Like Gimlets situation blowing up, he would smother an involuntary groan, and start feeling his leg. ‘I’m sorry. Shan’t be much good on the dance floor tonight,’ Floorman would say.
‘What’s the matter, darling?’
‘Look, it’s swollen up to double the size – it must have touched the table leg or something.’
This usually diverted Trina, even if it were only to say ‘how unpleasant for you.’ To have a stick, coupled with an old rugger knee, or, better still, a War bullet which can’t be extracted because of the danger of severing the saphenous nerve, so that at rare moments one is barely able to move, is a fine way of getting rid of the chivalrous protection situation.
|The ‘eyes like gimlets’ ploy.|
Floorman was pretty sound when it came to deflating a woo impulse. And I remember that he always said that though the pretty ones, the beauties, were hard to handle, the most difficult of all were the calm ones. The self-sufficient ones. People like Garda – or like Asra, who was such a perfectionist of the et ceteras – never drinking or smoking all over the place, never crying over spilt milk, never taking any notice if a friend showed signs of cooling. I envied Asra her ability never to fuss or fluster. Floorman envied her poise. But it was Floorman, in the end, who asked her the question which was screaming inside all of us.
‘What,’ he said, ‘are you poised for?’
Stephen Potter, Anti-Woo, 1965