Thursday, 11 November 2010

My Mother's Chair

My mother has a fine chair. It's High Victorian, rather throne-like, with an upholstered upright back and a wide upholstered seat that you could imagine accommodating Henry VIII's backside. The chair legs are carved wood, and the armrests are wood below with upholstered tops, supported by carved wood posts. It's pretty splendid until your eye travels the length of the arm rest and, instead of the upholstery swooping over the end, it comes to an abrupt stop, and the final four inches are a nasty bit of cheap wood stuck on the end.

No two ways about it, it looks odd. I can imagine someone on the Antiques Roadshow shaking their head in sorrow and saying, "It would have been worth thousands without the arms, but as it is...who would have done a thing like that?"

My mum, is the answer. I think she bought the chair at an auction years ago. It needed re-upholstering so she had that done, but she had a cunning plan. She knew the ends of the armrests were the first place to wear out so rather than having those little caps made, she decided she'd find, then attach, some lovely carved wood finials. She instructed the upholsterer to finish the armrests four inches short of the rough supporting wood, wood that was never intended to be on display. Needless to say, 20 or so years later, those carved wood finials have never emerged.

So, what's that got to do with anything? In real life people do stuff that looks bonkers to outsiders, but it perfectly well thought through in their own heads and utterly justified. "It seemed a good idea at the time," is an excuse we all find ourselves making at some point or other. My mother's chair is a good example.

You can make a character do absolutely anything, and so long as you take us through their thought processes, their justification process, we'll believe in them. I sometimes think we read just to know how others justify their actions. Paedophilia, mass-murder, whacky upholstery. It all seemed a good idea to someone at the time.

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