Monday, 21 July 2014



Have you thought much about that word?

I hadn’t until recently.  But I’ve decided I like it very much.  It’s a flexible and evocative word.

It sounds... well... perky.  Try it: perky.  Say it with a smile: perky.  Say it with a skip: perky  Imagine all the instances in which this sprightly and spirited word could be applied...

Personalities can be perky.  People and moods can be perky.  Responses to conversation can be perky.  Parts of the body can be perky.    

That’s how the word came to me recently, in a rather intimate and flattering context.  So of course that made me utterly predisposed to like it.  Still, I think my admiration for the word is well placed.  And as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I wouldn’t dream of arguing with the handsome man’s chosen application. I’ll enjoy the idea for what it is, just as I enjoyed his perky charm.

So now I’m back in London after my perky Irish holiday, and I’m on the lookout.  Generally Londoners are at their perky best at the moment, friendly on the tube, dressed in bright colours, because the weather is glorious and every other day there is some kind of summer event.  If they’re not watching an outdoor concert, play or opera, or rushing off to the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, they are sure to be stripped down to their shorts and reclining in a park or holding a pint on the pavement outside one of London’s many fabulous pubs.  Ties and suit-jackets have been thrown aside, crowds of smiling people with rounds of lager that never tasted so good, under a sun which refuses to set, the ambience and camaraderie distinctly jovial, decidedly light, and unmistakeably perky. 

It’s true the Pommies droop more in hot weather than an Aussie or Kiwi would, but even when they talk about ‘heat waves’ that makes me feel a cheeky combination of proud and perky that I’m southern-hemisphere bred; or ‘Tonka Tough’ as we used to say, after the resilient toys.  “Drink some water” I advise my wilting friends in a perky (and perhaps provocative) way.  And they remind me then that “you aren’t half so perky when it’s a long cold winter...”.   But at the moment so long and thankful does the Summer seem, that I toss my long locks with a dismissive shake of my head and a perky laugh.

The thing about this word is that ‘perky is as perky does’.  Take that laugh, for instance: I might have said ‘cocky’.  Yet one can feign cockiness.  It can be full of sound and fury. Whereas ‘perky’ is inevitably sincere: you can’t fake it.  Good or bad, it is what it is.  It’s an honest word.  ‘Perky Polly’.  There’s no arguing with it. 

I saw one such little girl on the tube the other day.  She was so gorgeous I wanted to scoop her up and swing her around and around in my arms.  Sadly the tube – and probably her mother – wouldn’t have allowed it.  So I teased her instead.  She was on the other side of the Perspex at the end of the aisle, initially with her back to me.  Her little hat was white with swirls of colour and butterflies which looked poised to fly away. Her sleeveless little sundress had even more colour – awash comes to mind – in a pattern which recalled a free and hippy time, though there was less than a meter of fabric required from her shoulders to her knees.

When she turned in my direction she was singing.  It was a sweet song but I couldn’t quite place it, and I smiled at her light-hearted and innocent expression. Her eyes were as large and round as the little girl in Frozen, in an ancient dark brown that would have defied the creaminess of her skin had it not been tinged ever so slightly with a hint of olive.  Her hair was brown and shiny smooth, cut into a perfect bob which framed her perfect face.  Her lashes were as long as a camel’s, her nose and chin as cute as a pixie’s but rounded in such a soft and gentle way that it suggested a struggle between ebullience and shyness. 

Her song was as a Mermaid’s to a Sailor: I longed to hear more.  But she turned away again. And the tube was silent except for the metallic rock ‘n roll of a raw and groaning track.  I poked my finger through the gap in the partition and touched the top of her arm.  She didn’t respond.  I wondered, like the Sailor, had I really heard the music?  I tried again.  This time she turned those enormous brown dials toward me, and the sparkle in them told me she knew what I wanted, she knew I was under her spell – as surely hundreds of admirers have gone before.  “Please keep singing” I whispered. She imperceptibly shook her head; though she seemed to like that I’d asked.  “Please” I proffered again, hoping like many a performer that flattery would get me everywhere.  But she held firm.  She did, however, give me a smile that would melt iron.  And for the rest of the journey this perky little creation, spun away from me, and back, away and back, in an elaborate game of ‘peek-a-boo’ with a stranger who was mesmerized by her sheer unadulterated beauty and innocence. 

When she left the train, I was not only dead jealous of her mother, and reminded (as I so often am) of the love I have for my own nieces and nephews, I pondered how exquisite a phase in life it is, around about four or five years of age, when everything about you and within you is incontrovertibly perky.  Everything is bubbling, bouncy, curious, positive and pure. 

And now that sweet little brown-eyed girl wrapped in a rainbow of colour and a halo of pure light will remain for me a metaphor of all that is perky and good.

That’s not to say, of course, that perky can’t also be naughty... perky is as perky does... oh, a most evocative and energetic little word.


(P.S.  Thank you to my dear friend Jackie Manuel who, after discussing my activities in Ireland, challenged me to write a blog with the word perky in it.  I think she expected more moderation, but maybe not.)