May 29: the enthusiasm quotient

The BBC aired a new production of King Lear last night. ‘Aired’ as in let the air into it, took it out of the stuffy self-congratulating rooms where they do their business. It wasn’t bad, I suppose, though I did turn it off before the end, so it couldn’t have been that good. I suppose I was mildly enthusiastic. Different then to the announcer who introduced it as a ‘brilliant’ new production. I don’t know why the BBC, or ITV or Channel 4 for that matter, trail their own shows as brilliant. This is for us the viewer to judge, isn’t it? Enthusiasm, in general, gets me down. The less enthusiastic you are, the more more enthusiastic I am. This my rule. I call it: The Enthusiasm Quotient. By media, this is a rule more adhered to in its breaching than in its respecting. The announcer will be given her script to call ‘King Lear’ ‘brilliant’, I suppose. You wonder about the ethics of a chain of command whereby a subjective reaction is scripted for someone who has probably not even seen the programme. One day soon this kind of dissemination of false opinion (fabricated, the lazy construction of enthusiasm) will be called into question by important people.

May 13: noise hygiene

American teenagers shower four times a day and squeal with disgust if they touch anything that hasn’t been whooshed through a laser cleaner unit. But we are not very interested in noise hygiene. In the gym you have to put up with the the general music booming out of the gym speakers as well as any number of tinny personal music sources that gym-users need for their own personalised experience (for some gymsters headphones don’t do it). At the gym you can be involved in cacophony. The world isn’t much better. Recently I had a couple of wax-blocked ears and went to the doctor to have two huge lumps of wax sucked out of my ears. They emerged like two frightening bugs from up the auditory canal. The nurse put them in a test tube for me and I regaled and horrified a number of colleagues with the exhibit. When I came out of the doctors I suddenly experienced the noise-ridden universe like a new-born: the roar of the traffic; the sound of my own footsteps. The ear produces wax naturally to protect the inner zones, but why does it overproduce? Is it a subconscious desire to shut the world out? Or shut somebody up? Racket just gets louder and louder and we haven’t even started getting unhappy about it yet.

May 12: through whose most grevious fault?

It was First Holy Communion day today at the Holy Ghost and St Stephen’s in Chiswick with me in attendance. I have been a non-believer for many years, so I find myself torn when the responses are ringing out. There is something in the deep rhythms that makes me what to join in. Through my fault through my fault through my own most grevious fault with the hand beating the heart three times. I just have to say it, even though I know it’s not through my fault, none of this, the crucifixion of Jesus or any of it was my fault. I want to show I still know the rhythms, the responses, for some reason. I sometimes say it’s through respect for my past, through the people I knew when I was younger and was Catholic, though I know it’s also just a child-like enjoyment of the ritual. Of course, it all becomes more and more ridiculous in my eyes. We watch the priest eat his bread and wine. We watch him do his fastitious cleaning up afterwards. They must be taught that at the seminary. Make sure you are meticulous in cleaning the silver plater of host. Bits of Jesus must not be left for the cleaners on Monday morning. These days the congregation are more of an audience. They are wanting to clap at various moments in the ceremony when the seven and eight-year-olds take centre stage. and at the end of the sacrement the litany of photographs goes on forever. You can see the poor priest taking deep breaths as family after family step forward for the suite of photos. Child with parents. Child with priest and certificate. Child with godparents. Child with Auntie Molly. It is endless. Fr O’Reilly came in for the ritual. Now he’s doing children’s parties. You pity the poor Irishman. Though this one didn’t seem to be actually Irish. Good luck to him. Keep it going while you can, father. It won’t be long till the whole thing becomes the Disney parade that is its historical inevitability.

May 6: please, operational grid, give me the right language

Language is all. ‘Please, operational grid, give me the right language,’ urged David Cameron in a laugahble memo to his strategy team when the old Etonian, Christ Church Oxford, PR man, Spad was plotting how to speak to the poor aliens who were his electorate. And this week too President Macron of France committed the translational infelicity of thinking that ‘delicious’ is always the right translation for ‘delicieux’ and so referred to another president’s wife as something tastier than ‘delightful’. The world of metoo et autres is incresingly sprinkled with the broken glass of language faux pas. In a class I teach, my 18-year-old students were unable to find a word that would be valid and acceptable for non-white ethnicities. All they had was a handfull of no-goes. Like nutritional advice, language injunctions tend to promote the negative. No gluten; no dairy; no carbs; no meat. But advice about food, as language, as life, should aspire towards recommendations, not interdictions. Language recommendations tend to be fairly random, and dictated by the dominant power: the US, the centres of influence. London cannot speak for all. It cannot insist that micro-centres of culture that have nourished certain usages are necessarily mistaken. ‘People of colour’ has become curiously acceptable. In the same way as ‘world music’ still exists to denote all the also-rans that fall outside the English-speaking monster. We are all at sea. It will take more than an operational grid to sort us out.