Katie Byrne: sense & sensibility
Who or what exactly is a 'nice, sensible girl'?
Published 08/05/2016 | 02:30
Some day, you'll settle down with a nice, sensible girl, a nice, sensible house and a nice, sensible family saloon. Some day... So reads an advertisement poster for the MGB Roadster from 1968.
We generally look at advertisements of old to hark back to an age of innocence and ignorance, but this one is still relevant today.
You see, a few weeks ago - almost 50 years after this advert first appeared - a friend of a friend told me that her wayward brother had at last settled down with "a nice, sensible girl".
This, I hasten to add, isn't the first time I've heard someone from my generation use the expression.
Even in a new world where men and women share chores in the kitchen and moisturiser in the bathroom, the idea of a nice, sensible girl persists. The MGB Roadster is now a vintage edition but the NSG trope decided to stick around for the ride.
At first glance you might dismiss it as a quaint little anachronism or a parochial turn of phrase. Not at all - this one is replete with subtext.
It's a circumlocution of sorts. In the same way that "Mammy's after taking a turn" meant nervous breakdown, "nice, sensible girl" is a kinder way of saying that your son has no sense... and once nearly burnt the house down when he fell asleep with a lit cigarette.
When someone tells you that their devil-may-care son/brother/nephew has met a nice, sensible girl, there is a very brief visual of him being straitjacketed with an M&S cardigan - but this is quickly followed by the conclusion that it's the best place for him. At least they know where he is…
But who, or what exactly, is a nice, sensible girl in a modern age? In the 1960s she was a mass-going virgin who could cook a decent meal, darn a stocking and siphon off most of her husband's wages on a Friday evening before he could take it to the pub. What our foremothers went through...
Nowadays, in a world of high-street shopping, payday splurging and foreign hen parties, she's a little harder to define.
Today, a nice, sensible girl might enjoy a few drinks in front of the television. However, she'd much rather watch Downton Abbey than go raving.
She has a solid civil service job - preferably in the nursing profession - and she's ambitious, but not too ambitious or else she might get ideas about herself and leave him. And we don't want that.
She is the first to arrive at the work Christmas party and the first to leave. She invested in an SSIA while her friends ran up colossal debts on credit cards in Ibiza and she has a pension plan, a savings account and a five-year-plan.
In short, she is dependable, patient and endlessly, unconditionally forgiving: Mary Magdalene without the revolutionary streak.
There should be effigies of these women on mantelpieces across the country. Families should go to Lourdes and offer up prayers to the nice, sensible girls who pulled their sons out of the early house and introduced them to the Credit Union.
They are answered prayers, angels sent from above. Mothers pray to St Jude of Hopeless Cases when they have a wayward son. They also get down on bended knee and ask the good Lord to send a nice girl - "a sensible one".
They neglect to think that it's a touch unchristian to pair their sons off with unpaid motivational coaches. They never ask themselves how they would feel if their daughter took up with a man who spends his days smoking weed and playing Dark Souls III on the Xbox.
Should a romantic partner fulfil the role of psychologist/AA sponsor/ addiction counsellor? Ah sure, say nothing or you might break the spell.
Besides, he's a very good boy. Just feed him three times a day and give his leash a good, sharp pull if he stops outside Ladbrokes for a sniff around…
The irony, however, is that sometimes it's the other side that gets sold a pup. An awful lot of nice, sensible girls are just really good actresses who know how to utilise the props of a well-cut jacket, a Jo Malone candle and a few well-timed eye rolls.
I know plenty of them. One of my friends says she has been "beatified" by the family of her husband, a man who's partial to the occasional two-day bender.
"If they had any idea that I threw a toaster across the kitchen in a rage last night," she confessed recently.
These women have a cleverly concealed wild side. They are dab hands with the Touche Eclat and they know exactly what to say when their other half's mother calls to ask them to speak some sense to their son. (Irish Mammy has no idea that they are mouthing "YOUR MOT-HER" across the room.)
As for the bona fide nice, sensible girls? Well, you really have to ask yourself how sensible they are when they take up with men who have no sense at all...