Sometimes the things that bug us are weird and wonderful. My ancient father harbours a series of pet subjects that set him off down the cussing route – I suspect that everyone does, and that they change at various stages of our lives – and there is very little that can persuade him that his strongly-held judgements might be erroneous or indeed might not matter as much as he thinks they ought to.
Let me gives some examples:
Firstly, mention of the names ‘Gordon Brown’, ‘Tony Blair’, ‘Ed Miliband’ or ‘Ed Balls’. The last – indeed probably only – Labour Party politicians that he has ever respected are Clem Atlee, Aneurin Bevan and John Smith, and he regards those I’ve listed above as incompetent, possibly dishonest, fools who by definition should not be allowed to run Britain even if, by some mistake or delusion on behalf of the electorate, they should ever win a General Election.
In the past I’ve tried to point out that, even if (which is not admitted) his views on said gentlemen is broadly correct, as a card-carrying Tory he should rest secure in the knowledge or belief that – as regards 7th May 2015 – the two ‘Eds’ remaining at the apex of the Labour Party is probably the Tory Party’s biggest asset. Sadly, however, I fear that his sheer exasperation at the thought of them representing Britain on the world stage takes him well beyond any consideration of such logic.
Secondly, the supposed difference between the words ‘same’ and ‘similar’. Whenever my father is in a restaurant, whatever the company, he picks up anyone who, for example, having heard someone select the salmon en croute for their main course, next tells the waiter taking the orders “I’ll have the same”. He will immediately chip in with the admonishment “You cannot have the same, only similar …” [this on the logic that plainly the second diner cannot have eat the same piece of fish that the first one has just ordered].
Thirdly, the supposed difference between the words ‘verbal’ and ‘oral’. He goes batty whenever anyone uses the one in speech whether he (my father) thinks he or she should have deployed the other … and I’m never quite sure which in my father’s view is which.
Personally I’ve looked up dictionary definitions until I’m blue in the face and I’ve never yet been able to give an unchallengeable answer to this one – maybe one of our learned Rust readers can assist me here (please write to the usual address if you can). For me, ‘verbal’ indicates the use of words [‘He was given a verbal warning’, i.e. as opposed to a written one] and ‘oral’ indicates ‘by the mouth’. But how can you communicate orally without using words [and, for the record, blowing a loud raspberry doesn’t count in this context]? My brainpower is only middling and so – for me – ‘verbal’ and ‘oral’ are practically, to all intents and purposes, interchangeable.
Fourthly, any organisation or person in authority who writes a letter of any description, even if it is just a simple ‘herewith please find enclosed’-type effort, and fails to sign it.
You know the sort of thing – ‘Dear Mr X, thank you very much for your recent communication regarding your account with us. We shall do our best to reply in detail to you within 21 days …’ [signed Fred Jones, Manager, Snodgrass Mutual Bank Limited (in writing) but without any actual Fred Jones signature in pen ink involved].
A perfect example of this phenomenon arrived at my father’s house yesterday when I popped over to watch a Six Nations rugby match with him. A few weeks ago he had applied in writing (as you can) for a blue disabled parking badge from his local council and received back by return an acknowledgment with an accompanying promise that a decision would be forthcoming within eight weeks.
[Somewhat surprisingly, in my view, applications for disabled parking badges can be made on a self-assessment of one’s degree of disability (via answering a series of written questions) rather than, as might have been expected, a formal note from one’s GP.]
Yesterday my father received the council’s decision. It had rejected his application on grounds that, on the basis of his – totally honest – assessment of his state of disability, he did not satisfy the eligibility criteria to qualify for a disabled parking badge.
I shared his disappointment at this decision, not least because in my view he definitely needs (and qualifies for) such a badge, given the state of his legs, general balance and mobility – never mind, on principle, his advanced years.
However, the aspect of the rejection letter than most annoyed my father, to the point that it was the only one that concerned him last night, was that the two-sides-of-A4 missive had not been signed by anyone.
He began effing and blinding and announced that his first move now would be to write a letter to the chairman of the local council, pointing out that – on the basis of this lack of courtesy and insult – his organisation had proved itself to be incompetent, inefficient and completely hopeless.
I kept my own counsel before going to bed last night. This morning I shall begin a campaign to point out that – if the eventual goal is to persuade the council to give him a blue disabled parking badge – whilst dressing-down the council chairman (and all who sail with him) might indeed make my father feel better, it may not be the move most likely to take his quest forward.
I put my chances of success at about 50:50.