Saying it like it is; Hackney's Pauline Pearce


Powered by article titled “Let it all out. Well, sometimes” was written by Victoria Coren, for The Observer on Saturday 13th August 2011 23.13 UTC

Have you seen Lady P’s sensational online video? Lady P (real name Pauline Pearce) is the woman who railed bravely and brilliantly against Hackney rioters. The footage went viral and global by morning; she was clicked by millions, like an angry, black, topical Susan Boyle. You can’t say that wasn’t a gap in the market.

“We’re not gathering together for a cause,” shouted Lady P, scornfully, “we’re running down Foot Locker and thieving shoes.”

How beautiful is that sentence? It has Cicero’s rhetorical vigour, Shakespeare’s perfect rhythm, and Victoria Wood’s instinct for the comic bathos of brand names. (“Sometimes I just like to pop into Benetton and do a bit of unfolding.”)

We all wonder if we’d be heroes, don’t we? We imagine crisis situations: a bus veering towards a pensioner, domestic violence between strangers, a child drowning in a frozen lake. We ask ourselves whether we would, in every sense, “jump in”.

In our best fantasies, we are brave and heroic. But few of us imagine ourselves being brave and heroic while articulate and witty at the same time. I mean, that’s Bruce Willis territory. We don’t even do it in our dreams. Lady P is a star.

I wonder what she’s like at home? It’s possible that she speaks her mind relentlessly.

Brave, smart, moral, vocal; a jazz singer, community radio DJ, mother and grandmother; survivor of prison and breast cancer; campaigner against knife and gun crime: this is clearly an amazing and admirable woman.

But I wonder whether, if she thinks one of her children is bringing up a grandchild incorrectly, she manages to stop herself saying so.

I wonder whether, when she thinks a friend is making a bad romantic choice, she keeps her own counsel unless asked for advice.

I wonder if, frustrated by the shortcomings of a well-meaning but klutzy person in a service role, she hides her annoyance behind a patient, reassuring smile.

I’m thinking: “Nah.”

I may be quite wrong, of course. But if the impressive Lady P knows exactly when to speak out and when not to, finding the perfect balance between expressing her own truth and repressing it where necessary, she would be extremely rare. Possibly unique.

Don’t we all divide into those who say too much and those who say too little? Isn’t it impossible to get right?

Either we hold back too much so those around us don’t know how we feel, risking that we are overlooked, underestimated or misunderstood. Strangers treat us with complacency, families and partners feed off our strength while forgetting our vulnerabilities, or (if they notice what isn’t being said) feel shut out and insufficiently needed or wanted. We might want to yell at looters, but it chokes in the throat; we never tell anyone else what to do.

Or we hold back too little, constantly expressing our own opinions and desires and fears, risking that we are intrusive, annoying or plain wrong; our partners feel crowded and tired and a little bit too wanted, while fellow party guests move quietly and kindly away.

And we yell at someone for looting, without realising that he’s actually a lovely greengrocer who was breaking his own shop window to release a trapped hamster.

Type A will swallow salty soup without complaint and throw up quietly later, having paid £20 for the minicab home because they wouldn’t offend a driver by pointing out he’s going the wrong way. Type B will have chef-spit in their stroganoff because they said the starter was horrid, and instruct the minicab driver to turn left when their destination lies quite clearly to the right.

Ideally, we’d all balance forthrightness and restraint. Stand our ground with villains, but not everybody. Be the one to tell a stranger she’s got loo paper on her shoe; don’t be the one to tell her that she needs a different haircut. Show openly and bravely how much you love and need your husband; don’t show how much you fancy his best friend.

But nobody ever really gets it right. We say lots of things we shouldn’t, or fail to say what we should, often hurting each other with both. Knowing when to do which is, at best, educated guesswork. Follow your instincts at your peril. Go against them at your peril.

Do you even know which type you are? You might think you do; aha, but there are plenty of subsets. Some people opine and complain while considering themselves doormats: it’s a common fallacy for the innately aggrieved. Others are so deeply shy that they fail to express any opinion at all, while believing themselves to be gobby and interfering.

But surely, as long as we try honestly to recognize our own tendencies, and those of the people around us, we all have a hope of learning when to speak and when to shut up? (“For you, Coren,” you may be thinking, “it should have been 800 words ago.”) We’ll never be perfect, of course; nobody is.

Except perhaps Pauline Pearce, the Hackney shouter? We don’t know that she isn’t. I was touched to see John Prescott tweet a link to her video with the words: “My kind of woman.”

Hurray for Prescott; I love men who find wilful women attractive. But, of course, he has his own Lady P already.

It’s your call. Unfortunately

What is the point of middle names? They are only ever used in two situations: form-filling, or news about rock stars’ children.

The media are such suckers for daft celebrity choices, those famous kids are always referred to by the full “Fifi Trixibelle”, “Buddy Bear” or “Princess Tiaamii” for life.

Have you noticed how odd the effect is in the case of the new Beckham baby, “Harper Seven”? It always sounds like someone’s telling you the time. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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