My sister and I have the same speaking voice. Believe me. I can only hear it when I listen to a recording of myself, and when I do, it is her voice I hear (and vice versa, she says). She once had a phone conversation with my husband, and they were three or four minutes into the conversation before she realised that he believed he was speaking to me. But something has happened. We have de-morphed. Last week she was recording our phone call in order to test a device she was to use later the week. ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’ I asked. ‘The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,’ she answered. ‘According to the Kinsey report, every average man…’ She interrupted me. ‘We have enough,’ she said, and she played it back. And, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, we sounded different! Two paths had diverged in a wood. We had gone our own way. We discussed it a little, why our mirror voices might have de-silvered, why the once crisp reflection had become blurred. Less time together? More time surrounded by different tones to melt our morph? Age?
Two of my three brothers have married their handwriting doubles. I don’t know if anyone has ever pointed it out to them, but I’m about to. Middle and his wife have indistinguishable scrawls. Youngest and his spouse gave me a book a poetry for my birthday last year, and there was a handwritten message on the inside cover. At first, I thought it was just one set of handwriting, that she had written for him, until my inner graphologist suggested I examine the inscription more closely. The differences were subtle, but there were two different hands. One was slightly freer, it had a more looped approach to the letter ‘y’, but she of the loopy ‘y’ did not dot her ‘i’, whereas he of the constrained ‘y’ was assiduous in dotting his. Either would be a good stand in the event of having to forge the other’s signature – incredibly useful, or a recipe for disaster, I thought. There must have been some similarity in their handwriting to begin with, but it does reinforce my notion that the more time we spend with someone, the more likely it is that we morph into them.
I’ve nobody to morph into right now, which, when put that way, sounds like a blessing. Why water yourself down? However, if I could twist myself into the bowing shape and tuneful sound somewhere midway between Martin Hayes and Frankie Gavin on the fiddle I’d be happy, but, apart from a little sidling up to them on YouTube, I’m not spending enough time with either for such qualities to rub off.
They say that if you spend too much time reading only one person’s work that you’ll be unduly influenced by their wordsmithery and end up writing in the voice of that person. I would love that. I would choose a different person each year, perfect him or her, then move on. After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? We are all unique and fundamentally ourselves, but a little unconscious influence, where morphing becomes an inadvertent ‘homage’, well that’s ok in my book.
Laurie Lee, roaming out in midsummer: that’s who has been taking up my time lately. I hear his voice describe my kitchen as I sit in it. He tells me the white roses are drooping like a parched vagrant barefoot on the road to Valladolid. The pink alstroemerias are marching a little ahead, pretending to be valiant but they are two and a half weeks tired and desperately wishing for the outline of a city to appear over the next hill, and with it the promise of water. He says the lemons are as shrivelled as the sinewy boatman who mend the nets from a wooden whitewashed hut by the harbour in Cadiz, grooves worn deep in his forehead from the Mediterranean sun. He’s wondering why I have a hazel rod propped up in the corner; it reminds him of the same agile green rod cut from the Cotswold verges and used to whip him at school, six of the best for reciting Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ unevenly, like a badly ploughed field. That crocheted tablecloth, he tells me, transports him to the filigree ice patterns on this inside of his bedroom windowpane on a January morning. The scorch marks at the foot of the coffeepot have been smeared on from El Greco’s earthy palette. He concocts a story about the deep crack in the panel of the pantry door, how the soft pine gave in easily to an ill-tempered booted kick of a drunken railway worker who once lived here. Lifting my fiddle (be careful, Laurie) he scrapes out an English folk song then remembers a few bars of a flamenco dance he learned from his days in Toledo. He stands to leave but takes one last sweep of the room and what he says pleases me. “It reminds me, ever so slightly of my mother’s house in Slad. Just like her apple tarts, her house was bursting, generously filled.”
Who didn’t love the dressing up box at primary school? Those were our earliest lessons in morphing, acting out, trying on a new persona. When we grow up, we might do it in more subtle ways, but we do it, nonetheless. It is a new week, and I’m more than a little bored with my own company by now, but I can morph, or try to. Who shall I try on today?