When first I decided to go traipsing about the globe I never truly considered the dangers. There I was, age 24 and standing at the departure gate like the fool I was … They should post warning signs at airports.
“Notice to all travelers. The world is filled with beautiful women. Do not get carried away.”
Mind you, I'd have ignored the signs because I am what they call An Optimist. Which is all well and good, most of the time. Except that sometimes A leads to B, and B leads to – well, being woken up one day by a six-year-old daughter.
“It's Parent Teacher Breakfast this morning! Don't be too long in the shower, Daddy – and wear something smart!”
Two things. First, I make no bones about being Of The Working Class, and we almost unanimously prefer to shower in the evenings. And my daughter – an expert when it comes to me – knows this and is, therefore, inferring something. Second, what are smart clothes, anyway? What do they look like? I don't know that I own any …
But I don't wonder how a six year old knows what smart clothes are, because she seemingly entered the world with a preternatural understanding of upperclass norms.
I used to believe in ‘nurture over nature’. I'm a bit of a rationalist overall, and even did a stint as scientific researcher at some point – but that was all before I had daughters. Now I correctly believe in reincarnation. Look, I don't even own a television, and my eldest hasn't seen anything beyond the occasional cartoon, yet somehow she has acquired the linguist tics of an actress from the Golden Era of Hollywood.
She is also an extrovert, which seems neither fair nor reasonable. I call her Boudicca, by the way; giving out nicknames is how I cope with being woken-up at all hours. Or being told to wear something smart.
I mentioned not owning a television a moment ago. I had one once, but got rid of it. Not to be critical but they're so misleading, aren't they?
For instance, not once did a contraception commercial ever warn me that, as an introvert, I was in a high-risk category for having extroverted children who might one day cheerfully drag me off to their school to have breakfast with other parents. Because I don't want to do that.
How I would prefer to spend my mornings is a subject about which I am not the least bewildered. I have a rule, and if you're a parent, too, you'd be wise to adhere to it. The rule goes like this:
“Never interact with parents who are parenting until after five o'clock in the afternoon”. They will make you feel unsettled. I cannot explain why this is, it is merely another of life's sad little mysteries.
Incidentally, I have another rule, which is to always go along with the whims and caprices of your children whenever you can, because they're a lot more interesting than those of adults. Well, usually. Sometimes I find myself at breakfast, muttering softly under my breath.
I do not like this, Boudicca. I do not like these sort of things. I do not like the trouble they bring. I do not like them on a train. I do not like them in the rain. Will there, could there, perhaps be tea? No there is not! You let me be!
And so on.
No, I'm not shy or lacking in confidence, or suffering from this ‘social anxiety’ phenomenon I keep hearing about, though if you ask me, it all sounds like a reasonable, fight-or-flight response to the very real and widespread epidemic of General Human Oafishness.
I would like to be shy and avoid people wherever I can, but Boudicca won't let me. She likes Parent Teacher Breakfasts. And it's not anxiety that I feel so much as a concern that, whilst tired and insufficiently fortified by hours of solitude, I might say the actual truth to people. Because I don't have much patience for The Script, especially before five in afternoon.
You know what The Script is – it's that weird, meaningless exchange of platitudes and commonplace observations that one makes with a stranger. It's the ritual with which we signal to one another that we're not alarmingly unusual. Look, I know that people can be fond of The Script, it's just that – well, I don't do it. It's like Thanksgiving. I opt-out.
And I don't churlishly opt-out, I just … look, The Script is boring, alright? So, I'm not doing it. I don't need to do every boring thing that adults are expected to do. It's bad enough that I have to pay that much for bread. Or be forced to look-on helplessly, from afar, as all the world's democracies are systematically dismantled by a class of sociopathic billionaires, while coral reefs just … die. So, I can opt-out of The Script if I want.
“How was your weekend?”
“It was nice,” I say, because it's past five in the afternoon, and sometimes I'll try The Script out anyway.
I think I mentioned I was an optimist? This is what leads me to add, “I ate a nice scone at … a place somewhere.”
“Oh that's awesome!”
But it wasn't awesome. It was a scone, and it was nice, but The Script – especially in the United States – requires an intensive use of superlatives
An awesome weekend, to my mind, would have involved a yacht-load of Norwegian lingerie models who collectively wanted to get to know me better – spiritually, physically and simultaneously. That would be awesome. But the highlight of my weekend, as indicated, had been a scone. And as I said, it was nice – but it was only nice. There's nothing wrong with using precise language when we can. I mean, if awesome is a nice scone, what happens when I am actually invited aboard a yacht filled with Norwegian lingerie models? What happens when someone asks me how my weekend was then? What do I do?
“Sorry, but I am unable to describe my weekend. We don't have word for it in English. We had one, mind you, but it was co-opted by a group of people who felt rather strongly about scones.”
Meanwhile, I'm sure the Germans have a good word for it, though it'll have 19 syllables and sound oddly scatological. The French probably have a word too, but I think we're done with borrowing words from the French; I mean, you can't even say bon mot around them without being reprimanded for having badly-textured bread or whatever. It's not even fun anymore.
So, perhaps instead of borrowing words we could wittle-down The Script a little. Use fewer superlatives – or maybe we could agree that ‘awesome’ should only be used to describe things which are actually awesome, and build from there.
I mean, when somebody concludes that my weekend was awesome owing to the mention of a scone, then I'm going to subconsciously trust them less. I can't help it. And I don't see how its fair that I should be forced into experiencing a sense of diminished trust and alienation over the mention of a scone.
And we need to stamp out this idea that fluency in The Script is synonymous with sophistication. It's better to be softly, inobtrusively authentic than overbearingly insincere, and –
“Oh, Daddy,” says Boudicca, interrupting me at last, with the graceful gesture of an actress from Golden Age of Hollywood. “You have such a silly mind. Now do have a shower,” she stage-whispers, “and remember – something smart!”