Oh Mary dear, I’m so glad you’re here.
Why Agatha, what’s happened? You’re quite worked up. I’ll ring for Ethel and she can fetch you some camomile tea.
Oh bless you dear. It’s just I’m feeling a little anxious today.
Oh you mean about Theresa May being our new Prime Minister?
Good grief no dear, I’m not fussed about someone who sounds like a shampoo brand being PM. No dear, this is much more serious.
I think I’d better sit down then Agatha! (pause) Now, do tell me what you are talking about. Ethel should be here with tea soon.
Well Mary, I seem to be experiencing something unpleasant.
Is it that new underwear you bought the other day?
No dear, I think I feel ashamed!
Oh, that is nasty. But whatever do you have to feel ashamed about?
Well, Mary, you know I normally don’t give a monkeys about what people think? Well, I did hear from an old friend that people have been talking about me, and it makes me feel quite tremulous.
That’s not like you at all Agatha. Such a stout heart, you have, so what were people saying?
Well, you know those new clever friends of Fluff Fortescue, our old neighbour in Wiltshire, well they came to tea on Wednesday – I hadn’t invited them but Fluff was insistent that we would all get on like a house on fire. Anyway, they seemed perfectly charming, and I was poised to add them to my Christmas list when Fluff called. She told me that they had been sniggering in the car on the way back to Salisbury about the state of my house.
What’s wrong with your house, dear?
Well, I thought everything was tip top, Ethel had done some light dusting that morning and the brass door knocker had been polished by Jones the gardener, so I was totally shocked to hear that they felt it was not up to scratch! Something about cobwebs in the architrave and grubby skirtings. Well, I needed a long sit down and a stiff gin when Fluff revealed their concerns, I can tell you!
I know. I’m normally immune Mary dear, but since then I’ve been flitting about the house, damp cloth in one hand, magnifying glass in the other, it’s all been quite distressing. I feel (pauses and takes a deep breath) dirty!
Well, Agatha, I think you can just stop fretting. These people have probably got some chip on their shoulder about your status, or something. I’m certain it’s all down to jealousy. You are not dirty, well, certainly not since we took that trip to Turkey and had a mud bath. It was amazing where the mud seemed to end up! Put it right out of your mind. Here’s Ethel with your tea. Or would you like something stronger?
No, this is lovely. And maybe you’re right dear, they did look a little envious when I showed them my collection of silver spoons.
That’s right, chin up dear one. Anyway, you don’t have the monopoly on shame. Do you remember when I had the grandchildren to stay over the summer, a few years back? Well, I felt a little itchy after they left, went to have my shampoo and set and – would you believe it – dear Claude, who was combing me out, found a hair louse! More than one! I can tell you, I blushed right up to my roots, high-tailed it out of there. I was still wearing the protective cape. I think I alarmed a few people who were walking past. They must have thought I was some sort of elderly superhero as I dashed along, cape flowing. But I just needed to be far away from Claude and his tutting!
Oh yes – I do remember Mary. I think I laughed about that for a week. Sorry dear!
Forgiven, dear heart. But, these feelings of shame we have, they are about something a little deeper, are they not?
What do you mean?
I mean, shame is something so many people feel. And women feel it in complex ways. Did you see that terrific American lady on TED?
Mary dear I am totally confused, and, if I say so, I think you may have lost the plot a bit here. Teddy Roosevelt died years ago. I don’t see how you could possibly be talking to him, unless you had a seance with that fantastically bonkers woman that Mrs Herbert introduced us to?
Agatha honestly! I do worry about you sometimes. No dear, a TED talk is a talk that you listen to and watch on the internet. This one was by Brené Brown. She talks about vulnerability and how shame is the precursor to vulnerability and that it impacts on so many aspects of women’s lives and even men’s.
Oh, I see. Well I agree that society nowadays seems to control people through making them feel ashamed. Women are told to Do It All, Do It Perfectly and Never Let Them See You Sweat! It seems we have, particularly for young women and mothers, a set of unattainable expectations which put them in a strait jacket.
And men too, apparently. But theirs is apparently Not To Be Perceived As Weak.
Oh yes, dear, it’s very confusing for the young people nowadays. Do you think it goes back to the Catholic dogma of Original Sin?
Oh, certainly, yes Agatha, the Count was led to believe that we are born with it – it’s had quite an impact on him and I can’t say we haven’t faced a few demons because of it. Of course the Catholic church is not the only religion with a monopoly on shame. Others drive the most dreadful behaviour, making families conform to certain rules about marriage, heaping shame on those who step outside those rules.
Yes, and even small feeling of shame can have huge repercussions. I mean, young girls starving themselves to look like models. They seem to feel they are simply not good enough as they are.
Yes, and it comes up in lots of other ways Agatha dear. It can be shame about keeping the house clean and tidy, to shame about not being a valuable and worthy individual – or even shame because you feel you have no right to exist. In whatever form, the symptoms of shame manifest themselves according to the individuals demons.
Do you think I feel shame from eating too many tea cakes dear? You seem to know a lot about it, so do be blunt.
Agatha don’t be ridiculous! (Pause) You always do have a tendency to be melodramatic! Eating too many tea cakes is merely a guilty pleasure. Guilt is very much a different thing; it is more about feeling bad about something you have done. Shame is deeper, its about feeling bad about who you are.
So then Mary dear, what can be done about it all?
We have to empathise dear. Don’t you remember when your Archie graduated and met Stephen Fry? Didn’t you tell me that Mr Fry talked about being kind to each other, that kindness was the most important thing. Well that’s what we must be, we must question everything that we do – from parenting and the norms we offer our children, to what our expectations of people are, and to challenge some of these ridiculous expectations that the media gives us to conform to body shape, jobs, the state of our homes, perfect hair, that sort of thing.
That doesn’t sound like it can be done in an afternoon dear?
Absolutely not Agatha, but kindness may lead to people show some vulnerability, even if it is about not being able to cope with the traumas of the day. So if we ask for help, and are listened to with empathy and support, this can instigate change and I think that’s a good thing isn’t it?
Of course it is Mary. Another tea cake?
Ooh I can’t resist – these are that lovely silver fox, Paul Hollywood’s recipe aren’t they?
Yes Mary – don’t forget, lashings of butter!