Downton Abbey title card

I have a confession to make: I’ve been very unfair.

For years I’ve maligned ITV for producing bottom-dwelling drama hardly fit for the back-end of the nameless +1 channels in the depths of the digital planner. I’ve mercilessly ribbed them for producing drama that could be equalled by a high-school drama club with the right technology.

And then I discovered Downton Abbey.


I’ve never been much of a one for costume dramas, occasional Austen’s or Dickens’ aside, it tends to always fall between two stools for me: half trying to create authenticity of period, half trying to be up-to-date enough for the ‘masses’ to grasp and enjoy.

Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey is an absolutely triumph of intricate storytelling, well-drawn characters and a compelling, time-spanning narrative arc.

Nothing personifies the joy of watching Downton more than the wonderful Dame Maggie Smith.

Our Maggie

Smith is without question one of the best things about Downton, as much for her own obvious enjoyment of the role as anything else. She is given the best lines and delivers them with a flourish and sparkle in her eye that leaves me in tears of laughter every time.

It was one of these wonderful bon mots from the Christmas episode, repeated on Saturday ahead of the Season 3 premiere on Sunday night, that got me thinking.

In discussion over frivolous party games with her Granddaughter’s fiancé, he comments on the appropriateness of a game that’s designed to make the player look ridiculous1, to which our Maggie turns and responds, quick as a flash:

“My dear, life is a game in which the player must appear ridiculous.”


As I watched I thought, she has a point.

We’ve all heard that life is a game; we are all playing it every day in our own ways, however much we try to avoid it.

But it is the ridiculousness of life that we all too often fail to see: the opportunities lost, the coincidental interactions, the growth and breakdown of relationships over seemingly trivial matters.

Life is inherently ridiculous and the sooner we can accept and embrace that the better.

Getting over ourselves

The biggest obstacle to our true enjoyment of our lives is our constant attempts to avoid appearing ridiculous to one another.

Can you remember when you first started to find other people attractive? Maybe early teens, noticing that someone who sparked something previously unknown in you? Can you remember how hard you worked to avoid appearing in any way ridiculous?

Can you remember the mortal embarrassment of trying to cooly walk past them and flash them a relaxed smile, only to catch your feet and end up flat on your face?

Or trying to talk to them and finding that all of a sudden your brain went on holiday and your mouth stopped working properly, leaving you spilling gibberish in their direction while they desperately tried either work out what you were saying or run away?

The terrible thing about those experiences is that we rarely learn from them. We all still continue to play the game, only now it’s our friends, our Twitter followers or our blog readers who we spend all our time trying to appear something less than ridiculous in front of.

Getting out of our own way

I read a blog post last week2 about staying clear of yourself and letting things take their proper course.

It applies brilliantly here; the more we try to monitor ourselves, to check what we’re doing, to make sure we’re “hitting the right note”, the less likely we are to be living a life that’s true to ourselves.

If you’ve ever been told you can’t do something and listened and not tried, you’ve not been true to youself.

If you’ve ever tried something, failed and not got back up and tried again, you’ve not been true to yourself.

You can only claim to have been true to yourself if you’ve tried all options, exhausted all opportunities and faced all comers with the same grace and smile on your face as ever.

Being prepared to look – and be – ridiculous is the only way we can truly live the life we want to, because it’s the only way we can live authentically. No one can live a lie their whole life, so why try to pepper yours with little white lies? It’s no better and no easier.

Honesty is the best policy in all things, because when it comes to the crunch, we’re all a little bit ridiculous and we all need to face it, accept it and revel in it.


What was the last ridiculous thing you did? How much fun was it to do?

Email me and let me know, or you can sign up to my weekly newsletter and learn about all the ridiculous things that I do with my life.

Some other posts you might like:

  1. charades, and my sentiments exactly! []
  2. that, alas, I cannot now find []