Other People

Judgement

Who is to blame? It is a question asked every day by lots of people about lots of things that do not necessarily concern them, and, as long as the finger of suspicion cannot be pointed at them, they often harbour a guilty (or sadistic) delight in doing so. For serious cases where criminal charges can be brought or lessons learned, finding out who did the bad thing seems a sensible thing to do. But in other cases, a desire for answers can turn into a witch hunt if you are not too careful, and the nuanced complexities of a case where there are usually two sides to a story are buried beneath an avalanche of ill-informed public opinion. You do not need to be Einstein to work out that social media now provides the bandwagons that anyone can jump onto.

After blame has been established, and very often before, comes judgement. Some people just cannot help themselves, gleefully pouring a basket of their opinions over the head of some poor unfortunate target whose guilt is yet to be categorically proved. A clue that a judgemental pronouncement is about to be made is that they often start with the phrase “well, if you ask me…”, a sure sign that no-one has.

Now for the controversial bit. I shall dip my toe in the waters of potential vitriol, at great personal risk to myself. Ok here goes. I think the urge to judge other people is more prevalent in women. There, I’ve said it. May I rest in peace.

It is just that you don’t generally see groups of men discussing their neighbours or acquaintances and what they have done to their garden or how they are dressed, or what activities they might have got up to. Men don’t seem to worry about that stuff. My wife will sometimes point out that some friend of hers has just changed her carpet even though there was nothing wrong with the old one, or put new windows in, and wasn’t this a waste of money, and I will somewhat harshly respond “why do I need to know this? I don’t care”, whereas she plainly does. As far as I am concerned, Mrs Miggins can do what she wants with her carpets and windows, it is nothing to do with me. The male net of judgement seems to cast itself in a much closer proximity to their person, unless you are talking about football in which case they are happy to heap often abusive judgement on everyone from the ref to the reserve goalkeeper.

To me though, 98% of the blame and judgement that pollutes our lives is ill-informed and therefore slightly pointless, other than as oil for a conversation. Drawing conclusions without both sides of the story is a fool’s game and we all do it, but perhaps the world would be happier if we all reined in the blame and judgement until all the facts are known. As if that will happen!

Being Slow

Get out of my way! This is a phrase that quite often flits guiltily through my thoughts, and the reason for this is that I am a self-confessed fast walker. I just naturally bound along at a fair old pace, getting to wherever I am going as quickly as my legs will realistically take me, short of breaking into a trot. I can’t help it – I just can’t walk slowly. And I don’t want to either. Walking quickly keeps you fitter and saves you time. It’s a win-win, surely?

However, as I negotiate the people hazards around me, it is clear that I am in a minority. Most people seem to be happy to amble. This is even more accentuated if you live in a tourist town – which of course many readers no doubt do – as the last thing you associate with a tourist is a zippy mover. Tourism is all about dawdling, looking round you, wandering about (often aimlessly), and just breathing in the atmosphere of a different culture. That’s fair enough, I can excuse that. I’ve occasionally been known to do it myself. But what annoys me is people going about their daily routines who have no business shuffling along like a sloth dragging an anchor, particularly if walking three abreast on a narrow pavement.

I was once leaving my office at work and I spotted a chap I knew from another department heading through the door ahead of me. He laboured under the misfortune of being a remarkably dull man, and conversations with him were invariably tedious, so I thought I would hang back and give him time to disappear into the distance. I studied my phone for a few minutes, and after judging that sufficient time had passed, I strode through the front door, turned left, and there, no more than 150 yards ahead of me, was Mr Dull, mournfully dragging one foot in front of the other at a pace that I would have described as pedestrian, were it not for the fact that all the other pedestrians were quicker than him.

I had no option but to begin walking behind him, hoping he would reach the station before I did, but it was soon obvious that this would not happen. However slowly I tried to walk, I was rapidly gaining on him. It was almost magical how he appeared to be moving his legs yet not advancing any further along. In the end I nipped down a side street, went round the block, and still got to the station well before him.

This got me thinking about ‘slow people’. If they walk slowly, do they think slowly, eat slowly, take longer to do their jobs? Do fast legs translate into fast brains? Should prospective employers do tests for this? Or are fast people likely to rush things and be less careful? All questions which are probably unacceptable in today’s world, so let me immediately apologise for ‘slow-shaming’. Right, must dash!

Feisty Audiences

You won’t need me to tell you that over the last few years the UK has had its fair share of TV debates, brought upon by all the various elections and referendums we insist on having. A constant thread through all of them has been programmes like Question Time, where a panel of worthies answer questions from the audience on political matters.

I have noticed a bit of a worrisome trend emerging over that period, which involves audience participation. It started with Brexit, as so many things have. This subject seemed to generate more heat and fury from the outset than all debates before it, and as a result the audiences in TV debates started becoming less and less able to listen in respectful silence to what the panellists had to say. It started with the odd young person whooping as soon as someone said something they agreed with. Others then joined in, and also began booing when they disagreed. The ‘other side’, not to be outdone, followed suit. As an example, it became ‘a thing’ during the Brexit debates that every time a panellist uttered the magic words ‘second referendum’ or ‘people’s vote’ it became obligatory for a proportion of the audience to whoop and cheer, as though this was the first time they had heard such a proposition. To my ears it seemed to mainly be coming from the younger generation, but that could just be because I am regrettably no longer able to class myself in that category. But it would explain why most of the noise appeared to emanate from the left-leaning side of the argument both for Brexit and also the general election.

So what purpose does it serve? Well, it presumably helps the panellist’s confidence to know that they have some support, but then they probably knew that anyway. I am struggling, however, to come up with anything else positive. For me, having to listen to other people make childish whooping noises in what is a very serious debate is just annoying. So you, a single audience member, agree with something the panellist has said. So what? What is so special about your view? By whooping as though you have got ten A*s in your exams, do you think that is going to persuade me to agree with you? Why can’t you just wait until they have finished talking and clap at the end like everyone else?

It was noticeable that in the last two Leader’s Debates of the general election, the audience had obviously been told to keep their reactive noises to themselves, and as a result there was a far more civilised debate, with less playing to the gallery and more time to hear the arguments. So much better.

So before we turn into America, can TV companies please read the riot act to these excitable look-at-me audience members and tell them to behave properly if they want to participate in an adult debate. Or stay at home, whoop at the TV, and just annoy your neighbours.

Stupid

The world is full of stupid people doing stupid things. All around me, all the time, a level of ineptitude that can only be explained by the fact that a large percentage of the population must surely be clinically daft. And stupidity comes in many guises: politics, religion, administration and business are always a gold mine of nincompoopery, but there are examples everywhere, as evidenced by this completely random top-of-my-head selection:

Town planners who signpost your selected destination for the first three roundabouts, but not the last two.  People who still text or phone while driving, which even they must know is statistically as dangerous as drunk driving. Footballers who regularly commit pointless and unnecessary fouls in dangerous positions that frequently lead directly to the opponents scoring. People who create instructions for putting flat-pack furniture together that don’t make sense because there is no hole G into which you are supposed to insert dowel B. A group of siblings who spend £1m on lawyer’s fees in the courts arguing over what was a £1m inheritance. Creationists who deny the existence of dinosaurs despite overwhelming evidence because they would rather take literally what is in a two thousand year old book. Experienced athletes who ease up at the line at an Olympics semi-final to ‘save energy’ and get pipped at the post. People renting their apartments online who think they will entice prospective tenants with just two dingy blurred photos, both of a sofa. The Flat Earth Society. Reckless tombstoning (google it). The list is endless.

But how do we define stupidity? Often it is un-arguable, but it can also be subjective. Most people would agree that you should judge it against a benchmark of common sense. But who defines common sense? We all think we have it, and presumably we all consider that the judgements we make are founded on it. But one man’s common sense can be another man’s nonsense.

Of course I myself could in no way be considered stupid; it is the buffoons around me who are the problem.  But wait…. who was it who spent time and money fixing a brass sign saying ‘please shut the gate’ to the inside of my gate, so it was not visible when the gate was open and could only be seen when the gate was already shut? Who spent 50 minutes on the phone waiting for a call centre to answer, then as soon as it did, managed to press the ‘terminate call’ button instead of the speakerphone button? Who walked 4 miles to a cheap supermarket yesterday to get some bread, bought some other things while I was there, and got home to find the one thing I had forgotten to buy was the bread? Yes, alright, alright, it was me.

We all do stupid things occasionally, yet funnily enough we judge other people’s stupidity much more harshly than our own. They are prize idiots, we just made an uncharacteristic mistake. Well at least that’s one thing we can all agree on.

Down Below

I used to live on the 8th floor of a Spanish apartment block, overlooking the main avenue in the town. I would quite often take a quick glance down to the street below and find myself still there 10 minutes later, gawping thoughtlessly at all the people and vehicles below as they went about their daily business, unaware that they were being watched.

And people watching from above works very well as it is extremely unlikely that anyone will look up and see you, so you can stare away without having to avert your gaze in a way that would probably earn you a smack in the face if conducted at street level.

The disadvantage of having such a view is that, much like everyone turning to look at what is causing the siren noise even though it is almost always just yet another police car or ambulance,  you hear things that cause you to rush to the window on the basis that it could be something worth seeing.

Car horns generally are a bit of a dilemma as human nature dictates that when you hear a loud ‘parp!’, you are intrigued to see what might be going on, so more often than not I expectantly rushed to the window only to be rewarded by the sight of a driver who has spotted someone they know on the pavement, or the gas bottle lorry arriving at the petrol station opposite and announcing his arrival with a series of unnecessarily lengthy toots. Neither event sets the heart racing with excitement.

 I heard a short toot and a bang once, but the bangs are usually someone closing a communal bin lid right underneath so I usually ignored them. It was only when some shouting was heard a bit later that I glanced down and saw a long queue of cars stuck behind an Audi sporting a smashed-in bonnet and a detached bumper. In front of it, the owner of a little work van with a crumpled backside (the car, not the owner) was gesturing unhappily at the Audi owner, who was shrugging his shoulders as though it was nothing to do with him. The entertainment then came in watching all the cars behind trying to reverse back up the road and re-route via the side lane. Further hilarity ensued when the crumpled van owner (punch line not required this time) and the Audi owner decided to push their cars across a pedestrian crossing onto the side road, thereby blocking the last few re-routed cars who had just spent ages reversing up the main road, requiring them to then re-reverse back onto the main road again. I’ll bet they weren’t laughing as much as I was.

So sea views and mountain views are old hat, what you want is a street view! However, should anyone selling an upper floor apartment over a busy road attempt to use that line in the hope that it will clinch a sale, please keep your expectations low.  

Nuisance music

A while back, I took a bus to the next town. Well, the driver did, I was just a passenger. As we moved off a young man sat next to me and decided to forcefully entertain all the passengers, but me in particular, by blaring some tinny drum beat ‘music’ out of the woeful speakers on his phone. My plans for a dreamy stare out of the window were put on hold as this awful noise assaulted my ears.  This scenario has since repeated itself on a number of occasions, although of course sometimes it is just a conversation, where a witless numpty who has decided it is too much effort to lift a phone to their ear, puts their mobile on speakerphone and shouts at it for the entire duration of the journey.

With regard to that young phone DJ, it got me thinking what it is about human beings and their selfish need to impose their musical tastes on others. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t see a teenager loping along with music blasting out of their hand (via a phone), and in Spain I regret to say I have seen quite a few old gents doing this too now as they shuffle their tunes as well as their legs in an effort to keep fit. It is not as though they benefit from superior sound quality through this approach, indeed quite the opposite, so why do none of these people use headphones? It can only be the same primal urge that persuades young men in their first cars to open their windows and pump up the volume to prove that…. well, what does it prove? In the 1980s, you might want to show off a big sub-woofer you had just spent the weekend attaching to your parcel shelf. These days, almost all cars have decent speakers as standard so rocking the street in your standard issue Seat Ibiza isn’t going to impress anybody. But here’s the thing – when people look at you in your car because you are banging out what you think is a top tune nobody is impressed anyway. They are looking at you because they are thinking ‘prat’, not ‘legend’. So perhaps it is all about dominance. I’m a top dog, you lot are going to listen to my sounds whether you want to or not (that still doesn’t stop us all thinking you’re an idiot, mate).

At least with buskers, they are making their own sounds and a degree of skill is involved. Also, they tend to play more pleasant tunes as opposed to, say, drum and bass or heavy metal, because they want people to give them money, not poke them in the eye.

But people walking along the pavement wasting their batteries blaring out music because they are too lazy to put headphones on may as well be holding a big sign which says ‘I am a nuisance and a fool’ to complete the effect. On second thoughts, maybe you don’t need the sign.

Consideration

I was in England, walking a little distance behind a large young woman with a pushchair. Her hair was slicked back into a fiercely tight ponytail; her leggings struggled to contain her wobbling limbs. I could see her rummaging in a plastic bag hanging from the handle, and before you could say ‘chav alert’ she had pulled out an empty beer can, and without looking around to check who might be watching, tossed it casually onto the grass verge next to the path. Not content with that, she then extracted a plastic bottle and flicked it into the hedge before waddling on. Her demeanour gave the impression that this was normal behaviour for her, and who gives a brass monkey if anyone doesn’t like it.

I was too far back to rush up and confront her, and in any case she was approximately twice my size so I didn’t fancy my chances. But I did tut loudly, which is the British thing to do in these situations, and not in any way diminished by her being out of earshot.

My anger at the idiocy and inconsiderate nature of this woman later prompted me to wonder about why some people are inherently selfish and have no consideration at all for others.  For example, I have had neighbours in an apartment block who were once leaving for a holiday very early on a Sunday morning. Most people would have tip-toed around trying not to make too much noise, but these people were shouting to each other, slamming doors and making no effort at all to be quiet even though it was 5:00am and all their neighbours would quite obviously be asleep. These people were either a) so stupid that they had no idea that their actions were waking everybody up or b) they just didn’t care. There can be no other options and yet whichever one you choose the noisy neighbours are painting themselves as self-centred idiots and stoking up the anger of people they ought to be wanting to get along with. Do they not realise that? On reflection, it is quite possible that they are stupid AND selfish – the two often go together.

After a few moments’ thought I quickly realised that it would take more than a few moments’ thought to solve this. There are so many reasons for selfish behaviour that if you are looking for swift answers and easily solved root causes you have about as much chance as if you were trying to get every politician to harmoniously agree on Brexit. So I will sum it up in a sentence that just trips off the tongue (and lands in a heap on the floor): all things considered, I do think that people should give considerable consideration to being more considerate.  Thank you.

MisSpoken

I have a relative (anonymity requested) who regularly creates sentences that sound fine in her head but when they emerge from her mouth contain unintended or mixed-up words that can either render the sentence meaningless or amusing, or both.

Here are some examples. She once finished an argument with what she triumphantly thought was the decisive question “How would you like it if the foot was on the other shoe?” which had the unintended consequence of causing the object of her anger (me) to collapse in fits of laughter. After complaining of a pain in her wrist, she announced “I think I’ve got repetitive arm syndrome.” She wanted to listen to her radio so asked “Do you mind if I put my headstones on?” We were watching some football. Bored, she asked “is it half-term yet?” Yes, she meant half-time.  Recounting a debt collection documentary she had watched, she announced “In the end they had to send the bayleaves round.”  She once saw an expensive house and commented “ooh look at that house, it has a lovely conservative at the back.”

TV programmes do not escape her verbal mangling. Keen to catch a comedy TV show, she said “I need to get home so I can watch Have I Been Framed For You.”  Then there was the time I was trying to end a phone call to her so I could watch World’s Strongest Man. She guessed this and said “I suppose you want to watch The World’s Biggest Man now?”, which would be a very short programme as all you would need are some scales and a tape measure. Driving past an army range on the moors once, she asked ‘”isn’t this land owned by the Mystery of Defence?” Another time there was noise on the line as I phoned her and she explained this by saying “yes, there are some workman out there digging up the road with their dramatic drills.” Her latest mis-speak was to bemoan an ache in her arm by declaring “I think I’ve got that Tennyson Elbow.”

Of course the most famous exponent of word-mangling was the Rev Spooner, who lent his name to the practice of swapping the first syllables of two adjacent words. When toasting Queen Victoria he was rumoured to have come up with “three cheers for our queer old dean!”  and, upon dropping his hat, once upped his mangling factor by asking “will nobody pat my hiccup?”. He once ended a wedding he was conducting by advising “it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.” Another good example, from the late 1940s, was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, was introduced by a radio announcer as ‘Sir Stifford Crapps’.

Why is it that some people’s brains work like this and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes? Indeed my relative feels that the more mistakes she makes, the worse she gets, as she starts getting flustered before she speaks. As she herself says “It’s a vicious circus.”

Getting Older

For many young energetic people across the world the tribulations of the older generation are of little interest until time reels them in and they suddenly realise they are approaching the decrepitude they thought would never come.  It’s happening to me. I find myself rapidly heading towards 60, which is kind of old, but not to someone who is 80.

Age is a strange thing, isn’t it? It is nice to grow older and wiser, but not so good to grow slower and creakier. You can weigh up the benefits and disadvantages, but then you realise they all pale into insignificance beside the fact that at any age from 45 onwards, chances are you are closer to death than to your birth. What a happy thought.

In some countries like Spain the family unit tends to be more appreciative of older relatives and less likely to leave them lonely and uncared for when they most need support. The climate also helps elderly people get out more so that they can stay active. In cooler months the old men in Spain all seem venture out in brown trousers and a dark red pullover, topped off by a cloth cap. On formal occasions the same trousers can be teamed with a light beige jacket and a pork pie hat. Older Spanish ladies, meanwhile, wear what they want but reach a certain age at which it becomes mandatory to have their hair cut short, permed, and turned copper red. I saw a group of five elderly ladies chewing the fat on the promenade and they looked like unlikely sisters because they all had this same hairstyle. I wonder if when the time comes they go into the hairdresser and ask for ‘old lady hair, please’.

Having said that, I just passed a slow moving man in the street who cannot have been less than 85, and he was sporting a wavy reddish brunette hairpiece that appeared to be made of nylon. It would have looked better on a lady but ‘better’ is a relative term here. I have never seen a more obvious syrup in my life. And for any confused readers, syrup is slang for a wig. To check this just approach any rough Londoner sporting what looks like a hairpiece and ask him ‘is that a syrup, my good man?’ He will be delighted to tell you.

In Spain I have had old ladies sit down next to me on a park bench and persist in telling me their life story even though it was clear that my language skills weren’t up to the job of letting me understand a word they were saying. For them it was just good to have someone to talk to (or ‘at’), which was nice yet sad at the same time.

Most of us try to avoid getting older then wake up one day to find an old person looking back at them in the mirror.  Now, time for a walk – where’s my beige jacket ?