Thursday, December 23, 2021

About dressing gowns

Ivan Goncharov, in one of the many 19th-century Russians novels I haven’t read, coined the word halatnost, most readily translated as “dressing-gown-ness”, to describe the sloppy idleness of the aristocrats of his time, a mode of existence that would come back to bite them a few decades on.

I wonder whether Jonathan Chew had Oblomov in mind when he appeared clad in such a garment during his trial for assaulting chief medical officer Chris Whitty. Although since the core of his defense appears to be “I feel like I’m innocent”; and his response to the judge’s criticism of his attitude was “What does cavalier mean?”, I rather suspect not.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

About self-censorship

A slightly confusing poll from the BBC finds that 49% of us resort to “self-censorship” when interacting with people we’ve just met. I don’t know about you (and that’s partly the problem) but I find that figure remarkably low. If I don’t know someone well, there are all sorts of assumptions I can’t make, thresholds that can’t easily be stepped over, and not just to do with their views or mine on immigration or trans rights or Brexit. Most significantly, what is the extent of their cultural hinterland? If I make a passing reference to a Billy Wilder film or a book by Angela Carter or a B-side by Primal Scream, or use what linguists define as “high register” language, or will they stare at me blankly, or become uncomfortable? And if they’re interested in Formula One or Made In Chelsea or chemical engineering or Scottish country dancing, they’re presumably doing the same thing, wondering whether I’ll respond with confusion or disdain or fear. (All of the above, probably.) 

So we don’t go there, at least in the first few conversational parries. Almost instinctively, we tease our way past obstacles of social class and education and language and how many thousands of miles apart we were brought up towards a common ground of shared knowledge and preference and prejudice, until we find out that, yes, our interlocutor can quote pages of Witness For The Prosecution and/or believes Ayrton Senna's abilities have been overestimated because of his untimely end and then we become more comfortable and can speak more freely. It takes a while to get there, though and before then, we effectively censor ourselves. Except that 51% of us don’t, apparently.

PS: An example: a few years ago, I met a nice couple at a party (remember parties?) and, after a few glasses, I began regaling them, and anyone else in the vicinity, with my opinions about a singer/songwriter whose music, I suggested, was unaccountably popular. (“Not even interesting enough to be bad” was my verdict, I think, so you can probably guess the identity of said troubadour.) It was only later that I discovered they’d chosen said music as a highlight of their forthcoming wedding. I wasn’t cancelled, but it was a tad awkward, to say the least. I really should have self-censored, shouldn’t I?

Sunday, December 19, 2021

About the Daily Telegraph

In an effort to extricate myself from the bubble of liberal groupthink, and to maintain access to what I maintain are the best obituaries in the English-speaking world, I’ve subscribed for the past couple of years to the Daily Telegraph. But a joke’s a joke, and the paper’s increasingly unhinged tone over so-called “wokeness” (once Brexit was done, they desperately needed something else to keep their readers appropriately furious) has finally exhausted my patience. In common with all publications, the DT is desperately attempting to reach younger consumers but its letters and reader comments suggest they have yet to succeed. The comment below concerns last night’s final of Strictly Come Dancing but to be honest it might as well have been about the Beeching axe, or the Gallipoli debacle, or the 1832 Reform Act. Even the name sounds like a middle-ranking minister in the Eden administration. Thank you, and goodnight.