Have you ever been in church when one of those happy-clappy vicars asks you to hug the person next to you and say “Peace be unto you, brother”? I’m never quite sure whether it’s the hugging or the peace & brother thing, but I hate it.
Have you ever had a creepy educationalist call you ‘colleague’? Ever been on a shrink ‘s couch and asked, “Did you empathise with your father?” Or in a business negotiation with American corporates, and had a senior bean-counter say, “Let me give you some comfort on that topic, Jarrrn“.
How about the word ‘heightist’? Or the term ‘critical path analysis going forward’? And the primary school teacher who talks about a kid who just tried to stab her in terms of ‘behavioural issues’?
In the aftermath of being exposed to such people, I exhibit various responses in body language: flaring nostrils, closed eyes, laughter and so forth. But above all, I cringe.
I cringe for people whose life is so arid, and sense of the ridiculous so absent, they can use such words and phrases without feeling unutterably pointless. They are, verily, as empty as the things they say. And – just like when driving a car we change gear unconsciously – these folk intrude into our lives so regularly nowadays, we simply blank the bullshit, nod and move on.
Well, most people do. I hate confrontation, but I have become addicted to not just nodding, but rather, picking a fight.
“What did you say?” I ask. And then the rest, I find, just sort of flows naturally. My wife spends most of the time she’s out with me hiding on the opposite side of the road.
Of course, this makes me a pain in the backside to accompany anywhere at any time. But to be fair to me – and let’s be fair to me – I love people who speak plainly and with forthright assertion. Years ago here in France, a delightful ex-SOE lady veteran who had shared tables with SS officers (while blinking at bright lights) listened to me mouthing off about divorce being far too easy, and then replied, “I couldn’t disagree with you more”. We became very close friends. She has dementia and it breaks my heart. Without people like her, Britain would never have got anywhere. My kingdom for a horse? My worldly goods for a dozen people like her, more like.
I help old ladies and disabled people as well, when I see them. I am just no good at the ‘count to ten and ignore the buggers’ thing. For me – and most humans who are real – distress and idiocy simply cannot go unremarked. I cry during Bambi, and mercilessly needle people who are controlling, robotic pillocks.
I realise I should have sympathy for those who can’t think for themselves, but I can’t raise my love & understanding game enough to do it. For a start, the overwhelming majority of them are highly intelligent; and quite a lot didn’t go to a 1970s Comprehensive, so in my book they have no excuse. But above all, it’s the motivation behind what they say that has the blood spurting from my ears.
A corporate suit doesn’t want to comfort you, he wants to ram a yardbrush up your ass. The daft cow from the local school isn’t my colleague, she’s a pinched goblin who wants to tell me my daughter hugs other kids ‘in an inappropriate manner’. A management consultant doesn’t really want to analyse the critical nature of my path, he wants to charge £100,000 for a foot-high pile of closely-typed bollocks. A GP isn’t really concerned about my salt intake, he or she is merely scared that a legal lounge lizard will sue him for allowing me to have a stroke on his watch.
My advice to all of you out there in Correctland is never lose consciousness of your cringe mechanism. In normal people, it is autonomic, and wired in at the factory. It is there as a physical signal, waving arms frantically as it shouts to your brain, “Wake up dumbass, we are in the presence of an idiot, here”.
Be alert to your cringe, and it will be a friend to you. It will guide you through life, and enable discernment between the Peter Mandelson and the Stanley Mortenson, the David Cameron and the Seve Ballesteros, the Gordon Brown and the James Brown, the Guardian and Private Eye….and the fact that Harry Truman’s backside was more of a President than Barack Obama could ever be.
That last example is thrown in gratuitously to give this piece some semblance of contemporary relevance. All I would ask you to bear in mind is that had some over-educated twerp said to Harry Truman “Yes we can!”, his cringe would’ve floored the scoundrel from twenty paces.
Thought to take home with you: the person who first said in vino veritas was probably legless at the time.