Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What do you think?

I need to do some crowd-sourcing for one of the secret projects. Even though they have both now been read and green-lit by the agent, they still feel like secret projects to me. I rather enjoy this small absurdity, as if, in the mazy corridors of  my own mind, I am an International Woman of Mystery.

The crowd-sourcing is because I have read the experts, wrangled my own brain, mined close, observed experience, and now I want the view from the internet. This is where the internet is brilliant. In my own tiny corner of it, I find people I should never, ever meet in real life. There is the intensely kind lady in Sri Lanka, who is one of the original readers of the blog, and the brave woman who went through the Christ Church earthquake. There is the Dear Reader in Canada, who also loves horses. There is the number one Stanley the Dog fan, and the lady who adores chickens. There is my friend in the north, who knows all about animals breaking your heart, and missing departed fathers. (I say friend, because she feels like a friend. I don’t expect we shall ever see each other, face to face, but that is how this odd intimacy works.) There are my blogging sister-in-arms, some of whom I have actually met, but whose support comes most keenly through the ether, which is our place of mutual connection.

I feel that connection, with everyone who comes here, and one of the things I think over and over again is what a great leveller the internet is. We may have very different life experiences, but it comes back to that meme which did the rounds a while ago: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. I feel that everyone here is fighting their battles. There is death and divorce, professional set-backs, illness and physical pain, aging parents and the daily frets of bringing up children. Everyone, it strikes me, is really trying their best, sometimes against long odds. There is a lot of quiet courage, and a lot of stoical grace.

Because of this, I sense there is a wisdom in this crowd, and that is what I want to tap.

My subject today is irritation. I was thinking about the things that drive me nuts in the head. I was thinking about the human things which are the most annoying. I don’t mean the big catastrophic faults, like war crimes and corruption and corporate greed. (Although, this morning, I felt a twisting spasm of rage at the man in charge of Nestlé, who has said that water is not a human right.) Those are horrors, and deserve a stronger emotion. I don’t even mean things like unkindness, which is a serious ill and should be regarded with gravity. I mean the small things which don’t really matter, but which produce a disproportionate response. I mean the things which make you want to throw heavy objects, and then, afterwards, you say to yourself in puzzlement: what button did that press?

On my own list would be: people who do not listen, people who are rude generally, but in particular to waiters, people who look over your shoulder at parties to see if there is someone more interesting or important to talk to. Also: personal remarks, bad-timekeeping, dangling modifiers, jargon, condescension, smugness, and being cheap. I get the nails on the blackboard feeling from people who say one thing and do another, who never listen to the other side of the argument, and who jump on bandwagons, particularly those that involve conspiracy theories or intellectually lazy received wisdom.

But at the moment, my number one, five star, ocean-going, fur-lined bête noire is: people who offer unsolicited advice.

Why should this drive me so demented? It really does not matter, in the wider scheme, not when Israel and Palestine are going up in smoke, and the refugee camps spread on the Syrian border, and Mr Putin grows daily more unpredictable. It produces a visceral reaction, a desire for violence, when I am by nature a pacific person.

I can perfectly well listen to it and let it go. I do not have to follow it. I can politely nod and smile and ignore it. But oh, oh, it makes me want to scream and shout.

I think: why would anyone tell another human what they should be doing when they have not asked? Why should someone think that other people are such idiots that they cannot manage their own life or make their own decisions or know their own minds? To me, it is the height of bad manners. The implication is that they are such fools that they need a dose of superior wisdom in order to straighten themselves out. It is, psychologically, an act of aggression. It is an invasion of personal space. It is a denial of autonomy and agency. It is a way of saying: I am brilliant and you are stupid. It is almost a negation of self.

I need to go back and have a hard search in the darker regions of my soul, in order to work out why this small irritation makes me go bat-shit crazy. Almost certainly it is some kind of failing in my own self. I have many failings. But one thing I can say with certainty is that I have never, ever told another person what to do unless they have requested the advice. I think it is an affront.

The line that comes to me now is – I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. I smile as I write it. No busybody, however well-meaning, can take that away from me.

I want your own irritations. Will you tell me? I am consumed with anticipation and curiosity to know what they are.


No time for pictures now, just this one of my best beloved:

15 July 1

We did our big practice run into the heart of the village, to get ready for the old people tomorrow. There were huge hissing buses, rattling dustbin trucks, squealing schoolchildren in high-visibility vests, men hurling building waste into industrial skips, and all sorts. The red mare spent her competitive life on quiet grass, working always with other horses, away from the hurly-burly of humans. Until she came to me, she had never been out on her own or seen anything busier than a tiny country lane. This was a lot of stimuli for a sensitive thoroughbred.

All the hard graft I have been putting in paid off. She was a little more reactive than I would like, which means I need to go back and check my working. She had a damn good snort and a look around. But the lovely fact remains that I took a fine thoroughbred into a completely new environment, riding only in a rope halter, and for all that she was sometimes uncertain and alarmed, she listened to me. I was very, very proud of her.

In a most touching moment, she stopped kindly and made friends with the small children, and she stood graciously and sweetly as they gazed up at her and stroked her nose. ‘She is very big,’ said one. ‘And very beautiful,’ said another.

Then we met a smiling old lady. Again, we stopped to talk. The lady told me that she had been in signals, in the army, in 1946. ‘With Louis Mountbatten in South-East Asia Command,’ she said, beaming. ‘It gave me a taste for travel. I’m off to Africa next week.’ I was so awe-struck by this extraordinary piece of information that I reverted to the language of my teen years. ‘That is so cool,’ I exclaimed.

She smiled up at Red, and gave her a gentle stroke down the neck. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘I’m afraid of horses. So that’s something.’

That is something. I rode home grinning all over my face.


  1. I tried replying to you on Twitter, then realised that I don't know whether my replies are visible to non-followers now my account is locked. Doh!

    I said "A similar one: people who think a learner necessarily requires a teacher."


  2. Irritations - blimey, where do I start. I shall strive to limit myself to one. Maybe two. And the first one is a two-parter. Oops.
    Number one. I love Radio 4. But I'm getting seriously cross with the interviewers and presenters who can't let a person finish what they're saying without interrupting. Sometimes it's necessary to puncture a windbag or stop a bit of political point-scoring, I quite appreciate that. But all too often it's done to show the interviewer/presenter's power and that's just bad manners and shoddy journalism. The Today programme is full of it. Jane Garvey on Woman's Hour is also a culprit.
    It also infuriates me when politicians and government departments aren't available for comment - even on something as august as the Today Show. They are supposed to be accountable for heavens sake> That's the two-part rant.
    The other one I will allow myself - why do SO many people feel the need to answer questions with the word SO?
    Going off now to fume quietly in a corner.

  3. At the moment it is a verbal tick: that of starting the answer to a question with, 'So -'.
    I know it's only buying a millisecond of thinking time, and might have been, 'Well -' previously, but it has an air of impatience about it as if they have been interrupted and diverted from a flow of brilliance. It has an, 'As I was saying' tone to it. Perhaps no one else hears it like that. I must let it go.

    1. Ah ha, but I am not alone I see from above. Good. And I will agree with Gilly's number one. JP Devlin does it to everyone, especially those poor members of the public phoning in with their anecdotes. They are asphyxiated by his air-grabbing interruptions.

  4. I am, by nature, an equitable individual. I have become tolerant as my experience has grown. But there is something so profoundly irritating about a baseball cap worn reversed or worse, two-thirds reversed, that contempt rears her head and utters a banshee shriek.....

  5. Love these. You are such brilliant readers. Making me laugh and making me nod my head. And a huge YES YES to the starting every sentence with a redundant so. It's really beginning to grate. Even august professors do it, especially on In Our Time. It must drive poor Melvyn Bragg insane.

    1. Sorry, me again. In Our Time - excessive deployment of the historical present.

  6. So, ;-)

    Grammar is such an obvious thing to be unreasonably annoyed by. There are two specific items I've been reminded of almost daily recently, while reviewing work documents. The superfluous use of the last word in an initialisation (PIN number, various industry specific ones that annoy me intensely), and putting apostrophes in the plurals of acronyms or intialisations (DVD's).
    I'm also very exercised by the fact that whenever I write to my MP, he replies with a standard response that's clearly been approved by Number 10 before he sent it.

  7. I have a long list of "minor" irritations, many now fueled by spending a ridiculous amount of time on the internet where bad grammar & spelling (there's spell check! Use it!!!) abound. Your never going to get some to correct there use of those words...(sigh) (then, grrrrr) ;-)

    Other than the blatant (and rampant) racism, anti-semitism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, intolerance & general disrespect that SEEM to be OK (in what universe!?!) to spew (again, particularly on the internet & usually anonymously), what gets to me on a one-to-one level is those people who KNOW exactly what's going to happen, especially if it involves me.
    I call them "fortune tellers" & I know the origin of this. (Thanks, Mom."Don't pick up that stick; you'll put out your eye!")
    These people could probably be classified along with those giving unsolicited advice, however, I find fortune tellers much, MUCH more "off the wall" -- along the lines of that poem "for want of a nail a shoe was lost", leading to the total destruction of a kingdom -- and it's ALL in their imagination!

  8. It was impossible to think of irritations after reading the lovely end of the post on the mare, the children and the vintage explorer.
    But searching for the last time I felt that complete exasperation of why, why do you think that's acceptable...commuters, beautifully dressed with designer accessories - but with their feet up on the seats! I can't look!

  9. 1. People who step on the gas pedal in order to:

    a) prevent someone from making a turn
    b) get up the arse of someone driving in front of them
    c) be aggravated that anyone is on the road at the same time they are.

    If they hadn't purposely sped up, it wouldn't be an issue.

    2. People who stop in the doorway of a store to:

    a) tie their shoe
    b) tend to their child in a stroller
    c) chat on their cell phone

    3. Anyone in a movie theater who is not there to actually watch a movie. Whatever else they are doing, whether:

    a) talking/texting on their cell
    b) talking to their friends
    c) running in and out of the theater at random moments for no apparent reason

    These people are ANNOYING AS HELL and I want to ship them to a deserted island where they can do all those things without ruining my movie-watching experience. I've avoided this particular annoyance by simply not going to the movies any more, or, if I absolutely want to see a certain film on the big screen, going on a school night when there is less likelihood of "screaming meemies".

    4. People who hold cell phone conversations at restaurants - or any public place that I can't just walk out of because I'm engaged in the bona fide activity for which that public place was created. (Library, grocery store, post office, etc.)

    5. People who use their children as attention-getting devices. They hold extremely loud, one-sided conversations, in public places, with a child that is too young to talk themselves. They bank on other people succumbing to the social pressure of not simply beheading a person who is caring for a small child. They severely underestimate the urge their behavior creates.

    6. People who use pets as attention-getting devices. See #5, substitute "pet" for "child" - same thing.

    7. People who decide to mow the lawn, hack down a shed with a sledgehammer, jackhammer their driveway, or replace a roof at 7:30 on Sunday morning.

    8. People who work in the same room with other people for 8 hours a day that don't just shut up and work. They take their captive audience through every single personal problem they have, every stupid thought that crosses their synapses, and every tired headline that everyone else has also just read on the CNN website. For some reason, these people often have horrible grammar and pronunciation, so it's like nails on a blackboard. Everyone in the room is wishing someone else had the guts to tell this person to STFU. But everyone, including the yammering idiot, knows that the management would come down on the complainer, not the idiot.

    Reading my list, it occurs to me that I should not live on Long Island. I should live out in the country, preferably in Scotland. 8-)

  10. Brilliant! Sadly, I think I am an easily irritated person as almost all of the above resonate with me too. Top of my list at the moment would have to be people attached to their mobile phones. So much so that it is in their hand at all times; during a meal so it can be checked constantly and even during a one-on-one conversation. There's no eye contact! And I'm talking about adults… drives me bonkers.

  11. Minor irritations that drive me batshit? As with you, those who say one thing and do another, which is a feature of a passive-aggressive interpersonal style. Passive aggression in general has me hopping mad, although I do realise that some people honestly cannot help the way they are. They are often the ones that are "always running late" as well.

    But my number one pet hate? Self-absorption. The sort that if you meet them in the street after a few months of not having seen them, and you ask how they are, tell you in great detail, but when the moment comes for them to reciprocate and sho an interest back, suddenly remember just how busy they are and rush off to do their errands.

    Pet hate #2 People who are SO busy all the bloody time.

  12. Irrational/indefensible irritant: Agressive women drivers. I know men are equally guilty but for some reason I expect us to know better.

    I irritate myself with this one: In conversation I often, while listening to the other person, think of something to say and I can't wait for them to stop talking so that I can say it. Now I'm aware of it I make a conscious effort to suppress this and actually listen to them. When it's my turn to speak I'll say something relevant in reply. I've usually forgotten the original thought anyway. Now that I'm curing myself of this trait I find it incredibly annoying in others...

    Sorry for any poor grammar!


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