It’s a lesson that I keep having to learn over and over again. Ugly doesn’t matter.
When all the instincts scream, “too hideous for words,” the strategies kick in:
Destroy it: Before my eldest son was born I gouged a hole into headboard of a brand new wooden cot to remove a stubborn decal of a hideous Disney type creature that I decided would pollute his pure, unspoiled perception. I was restrained from doing the same damage to the other end of the cot. Needless to say, the remaining decal was the first image that cracked a smile and brought a coo from the fractious fiendish baby.
Banish it: I made Peter help me carry pieces of heavy, I mean HEAVY, imbuia ball and claw furniture up three flights of stairs to store it out of sight so that our little rent controlled flat in Sea Point would be to my liking. We lived in fear of the landlord forcing his way past us when he came to the door knowing he would be livid on discovering the excellent furniture that was meticulously itemised in the lease was nowhere in sight.
Avoid it: An acquaintance once told me that he could not send his child to a particular school because it was so ugly. He meant the buildings, the setting, and my God, there are some ugly schools around, that is for sure.
Ignore it: My best friend, sadly gone now, loved those cheap screaming scarves with dolphins or sunsets soaked into synthetic swirls. She would drape them over her hips or shoulders, over lampshades and sofas. When in her wonderful company I would silently go through a list of all the awful people I had met with impeccable taste.
Make it beautiful: What was drek decades ago, is cool today. Retro is a category that moves inexorably forward, skipping the immediate past and embracing everything that trails behind it, bathing it in nostalgic beauty.
Make it a mission: For years I attempted to stretch my aesthetic to include ugly, clumsy, unpolished till it became the banner of contemporary painting: Bad painting had become good painting. Now, bad painting is once again bad and I am faced with the opposite pole - smooth creepy stuff that I am physically allergic to. I have to stop myself from dismissing it as ugly right away. I work hard at ingesting it and turning it beautiful. Many times I do not succeed.
Empathise with it: Feel for the ugly. Twenty years ago an acquaintance told me, “You’re not much to look at but you’ve got personality.” It’s the kind of comment that sticks with you because although you wish the first part were otherwise, you know it’s true. It also gives you great empathy with all the other ugly people in the world and by extension, funny as it must sound, objects too. It’s not my fault, screams the house next door, I was made that way.
Live with it: Here is our back door. Like some kind of giant orthodontic work, it is embellished with the window/door dressing that SA loves best.
These were once very pretty French doors. They are the very same doors that were smashed to smithereens as intruders entered our home late one night, held a gun to my dear husband’s head and kicked him about. Three weeks later he had a heart attack.
Now, that’s ugly.