Have you ever read Finn Family Moomintroll? A lot of people remember it from the stopmotion animation that was on the BBC in the 70s/80s, but the books are much better, if my memory isn't as inaccurate as I suspect it to be. I've long suspected that children's books aren't simply just stories, but guidebooks for malleable minds. Introducing us to the darker side of life. The bad people. Including the Grokes. Here's how the Groke is described when she first appears:
She was not particularly big and didn't look dangerous, either, but you felt she was terribly evil and would wait for ever. Nobody plucked up enough courage to attack. She sat there for a while, and then slid away into the darkness. But where she was sitting, the ground had been frozen!'
You know one, don't you? Someone who sucks the joy out of everything. Makes you explain a bad joke so thoroughly that there's nothing funny left in it. A jobsworth, a killjoy, a moodkiller. The woman who... was one. She is happily out of my life now, and I don't have a vacancy for another. But of course, you still come across Grokes in everyday life. In shops, in the school playground, in cafes. They used to piss me right off. Then I remembered how my younger self used to deal with them.
I charmed them.
Yes, I am aware you know me, I'm a rantprone sweary kickarse blogger. 'Charming' is not a word often applied to me, other than sarcastically. But I do have charm muscles that I flex every now and then. Just to keep them in working order.
It started in middle school. Somehow, for some reason, I became the designated spokesperson for my group of friends. If we wanted to do something we shouldn't really have been allowed to do, like rehearse in the music room at lunchtime, or do our classwork in the library, I was always the one who had to ask the teacher. Always. One day in Year 6 I had a mini tantrum. 'Why do I always have to be the one to ask? Why can't one of you do it?' Immediately there was a chorus of 'Because grown ups love you! They think you're polite and have nice manner!'
'Yes! All our mums love you. You even got Miss Tudge (the truly terrifying violin teacher) to open the instrument room. AND she smiled at you.'
There was a brief pause as we shared a collective shudder at the flashbulb memory of Miss Tudge's rictus grin splitting her face apart like the Kraken at the end of Clash of the Titans (the Harryhausen one, not the 'Titans will clash' one), then I shrugged and beetled off to ask Mrs Dartnell if we could get the netball posts out at lunchtime.
But it's true. The carrot generally is more effective than the stick. These days, when I encounter a Groke, I could charm the birds from the trees. As you can imagine, it's fairly terrifying. I overseason everything with pleases, thank yous and smiles. I am apologetic, I do a headtilt of coyness. Worst of all, I make eye contact. LOTS of eye contact, which is hugely unsettling for any Groke. If they try to avoid looking at me, I adopt an even coyer posture (sometimes giving myself a crick in the neck in the process), so they can't do anything but look at me. It makes it nigh on impossible for them to maintain their Grokelike deneanour.
It is also a hell of a lot of fun. Having lunch two days ago at one of our favourite restaurants on the beach, we encountered Spain's grumpiest waitress. She was surly, curt, magnificently arsy (I admit to having a great deal of respect for anyone whose arsiness rivals mine. I know how much work it takes). She slammed menus down, threw placemats at us, and clattered our drinks down with such vehemence that our table became a veritable wetland. Alistair rolled his eyes and looked annoyed. I smiled. This was going to be a challenge. And FUN.
I broke her spirit. Of course I did. I deployed every weapon in my arsenal and watched the thaw begin with a muttered 'de nada' (literally 'it's nothing', you're welcome). Plates were lowered into place, rather than flung. Meltiness came when she smiled at me as I paid the bill, and said 'gracias'. And finally, finally, as The Girl and I bopped out of La Siesta, the waitress formerly known as Groke put a hand on The Girl's golden curls and, exclaiming '¡Que guappa!' handed her and The Boy two Chupa Chups lollipops.
Trust me, I'm a twatty blogger. Charm works like a... charm.