Diminishing Norms

by Linda Oubridge

Linda is interested in beliefs and superstitions at the everyday level, in a world of diminishing norms. 

‘This is Natalie, she’s just joined us today.’ I take her hand in both of mine to welcome her.  The intimacy of this surprises her. She pulls back fractionally in spite of the warm smile. Her hand is freezing! The double-handed clasp is a standard church greeting and no practicing Christian would recoil from it.  Not a member of the God-squad then, that’s a relief.

‘Ola!’ She ventures, with some courage.  Like so many before her, she assumes that the sheer volume of black hair makes me quite indisputably Spanish.  I decide to leave this aside for now.

‘Ooh. You must be a very kind soul – your hands are so cold!’ I say, raising my not insignificant eyebrows. I always underestimate the power of these eyebrows, the drama of this face which requires so very little to over-animate it.

‘Well…yours…are very…hot!’ She seems relieved to have thought of a response as if it is some kind of test and withdraws her hand as soon as she can without appearing rude.  I think, how difficult it is for people to behave if you force them to move even a fraction outside the standard patter.

‘That’s because I have a cold, cold heart.’ I say mercilessly, shaking my head slowly but not breaking eye contact. I simply can’t resist the opportunity to play, to insert some unnecessary and quite meaningless drama. Offices are so dull. There it is, that tiny flicker in the eyes…fear.   Ah, she is not a fellow player then.  She is going to be a by-the-book kind of girl, all proper and correct. She will be part of the squeaky clean set, lovely, reliable, safe…a little bland.

‘Well, and where are you coming to us from Natalie?’

‘Ah, I have been at OCR for the past four years.’

‘And yet you seem unscathed!  I worked for them for two years myself before reaching full escape velocity and coming here to lick my wounds.’  She does not know what to say to this and gives a charming and utterly terrified smile.’ I nod and gesture towards a colleague to release her from the ordeal.

'Have you met Peter?  He's our online training manager and an outrageous thespian.  You mustn't believe a word he says.'