There's nothing - and I mean nothing - I hate more than being asked what I do. I mean, really! Why does anyone want to know?
If I'm face to face with someone, and I'm my usual benign self, I tend to look shifty-eyed and start to wind one leg around the other like a bashful flamingo. If I'm feeling belligerent, I try hard to follow a friend's advice, and fix the questioner with a beady eye while saying, "I'm a housewife." I've considered saying hausfrau but sometimes I feel that might land me with more talking to do in the way of explanations and that goes very badly with the beady-eyed look.
To my eternal regret, I've never managed to say any of this. Mostly, I hem and haw and watch people look at me with vague sympathy. The trouble, I've realised, is that I try to be honest about the answer, as if people really are interested. I tend to assume that if they've bothered to ask a question, they really want to know the answer. I've yet to reach the zen state of treating such questions in the same way as one would pleasant enquiries after one's health.
If only one could answer a "what do you do" in the exactly the same way one would a "how do you do": with a "good, good! And you?"
"What do you do, Space Bar?"
"Good, good! Great! And you?"
It would be a wonderful, wonderful world. It would be a wonderful world.
So this morning there was a birthday party at a pizza place. I dropped my son off and two hours later, when I went to pick him up, the party hadn't wound down. Some other mothers were there to pick their kids up, so we huddled in one corner. The inevitable question arrived. I wrung my hands like Uriah Heep and said, "I work from home."
"Ya? What do you do?" came the next question, with just the faintest suggestion of caution behind it, as if I might reply, "Tupperware. " In fact, note to myself: I should say Tupperware the next time.
"Freelance," I say.
And then, I do something I would never have done with an adult; with a child of four almost certainly, but never with an adult. I look at a point over the lady's shoulder and I say, with widened eyes, "Oh, look! They're having a balloon fight!"
Then other things happen, and I don't have to make more explanations. And it's time to leave.
Next time, I'm going to wear Sophia Loren sunglasses and make up the most improbable stories. After all, I have no compunction about telling the most shocking untruths about myself on train journeys where one has to exchange life histories and family ailments.
In the meanwhile, I know I will have nightmares tonight. In it there will be an old crone pointing her talons at me and and calling me a Hausfrau! in a cracked, shrill voice.