In my bathroom I have a mirror in which – save for the odd ‘morning after’ – I always look ok. My features, although scattered around my face with almost careless abandon, appear benign and my hair has something that may well, once-upon-a-time, have had something of a style to it – even though it is currently merely clinging onto the wreckage. It is the mirror that I see as I walk into the room, and the one that I choose to consult before I leave. It is a perfectly flat sheet of reflective material, as is the mirror on the other bathroom wall, in which I look like a pasty-faced, bloodshot, ancient gimp. How? They are made from the same material, possibly bought at the same time, and they are in the same room. How do they reflect such different aspects? I have tested them out with other objects – my granddaughter’s doll, my grandfather’s photograph, a carrot – and they all look identical when reflected from the matching surfaces. It is only my face that takes the hit.
I have given some consideration to why one mirror should see me in such a favourable light, whilst the other is so bent on telling the truth. I am sure that I have never upset it. I asked my wife if she had noticed anything similar, but she just asked whether I had been drinking, which I took as a ‘no’.
If I position myself carefully between the two mirrors, I can see the back and side of my head. It looks relatively normal, but I am not certain. Is the flattering image produced by mirror one, being distorted by mirror two, or is the frighteningly realistic reflection of mirror one being pimped by mirror two? Is one cancelling out the eccentricities of the other, or are they partaking in some sort of optical game of Chinese Whispers in which the final image actually bears no resemblance to the initial vista? Does the back of my head, in short, look anything like I think it does?
I have other mirrors dotted about the house – they regularly startle me in the night – and I am fairly certain of what I actually look like from the front. If I was an actor, I would play ‘characters’. This face has not only been ‘lived in’, but has almost certainly suffered a fatal accident. I have experimented with ‘the toothy grin’, but I just look like the ‘before’ advert for facial reconstruction. Should I ever cast my visage upon the merciful waves of a dating website, I fear it would wash up on the beaches of ‘desperate’. Never mind: I have grown used to it. It is what sits atop my shoulders, teetering upon my oversized neck. I am far less certain of my rear view. Other than the untrustworthy opinions of the twin bathroom mirrors, I have only the little reflective square of the barber’s ‘Is that ok for you?’ to guide me, and I have never quite got over the possibility that it could just be a photograph rather than a mirror: ‘this is what you would like the back of your head to look like’. I have tried turning around in family photographs, but for some reason, that is not considered acceptable, so I will once again abuse my position of power on this platform and inform my many readers that I will be queuing in the post office on Monday, about five o’clock, and I would be very grateful if you could arrange to sneak up behind me and take a photo when I’m not looking. That should do it.
Otherwise it’s back-to-front on the stool in the railway station photo-booth again. That always tells the truth…