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Columnists

Comic impressions

Sarah Dean

First impressions count. No matter how wrong you would like this received wisdom from your Dad and your careers teacher to be, those first ten seconds when you meet someone new are when their neurons whizz through a series of comparisons and judgements forming the impression that will be seared on their memory forever. The recent hot weather has reminded me of one of the worst first impressions I ever made.

In one of my earliest jobs out of university I gave presentations to potential funders for an organisation that specialised in community art projects in rural areas. I gave these presentations everywhere from Dumfries to Dorset, Saltburn to Cirencester. I travelled so widely that my Mastermind subject could have been the parish halls of the British Isles. How many plug sockets are there in the Ogalvie Hall, Whitchurch? None, but the vicar says they usually run an extension lead from the kitchen for the OHP and that works fine. Correct. What does the community hall in Penn Darroch smell of? Damp Rich Tea biscuits and leaking gas. Correct.

On the occasion in question I was invited to give a presentation to a group of significant funders in the West Country, which meant I had to take a seven-hour train journey on the hottest day of year. The journey went smoothly, so at my final connection I was able to get an earlier train to my destination. This was in the days before mobile phones, so I had no way of alerting the committee chair that I would be arriving early. I decided I would use the extra time to freshen up, change, and make a better impression than I would while sweaty and travel worn. When I got to my destination I realised the flaw in my plan. This country station was nothing but a platform and a bench.

Nothing says you've got a glamorous job in the arts like struggling into a crumpled suit while hiding behind a skip in a car park. Nothing says humiliation like realising you misjudged your cover and you just got changed in full view of a middle aged lady in her Range Rover. A few minutes later my horror was complete as the Range Rover woman stood on the platform holding a sign with my name on it. An impromptu strip show was such a ridiculous first impression that my second impression ('Person pretending to have just got off a train who blatantly hasn't') seemed positively sane. Her eyes showed panic but thankfully good old British reserve kicked in. We drove to the meeting making chit-chat about the weather, trains, road signs ... anything but the colour of my bra.

Paul tells us that God sees what is in the heart rather than the outward appearance. We mere mortals need to counter our natural inclination to judge someone before we have seen what their heart is like.

Although it was probably down to her embarrassment, I am grateful that the chair of the committee overlooked a first impression - unprofessional, disorganised, unable to dress unaided, possibly insane. She didn't have to be so kind. A week later my boss received a letter confirming that her committee would be delighted to fund our project. Thankfully it made no mention of the performance art piece Girl in a Car Park, Behind a Skip, Flashing.