21 December 2019

Triviality

Going up the hill, our next door neighbours are Tony and Jill. They have been our neighbours for three decades. If there was a national award for "Top Neighbours" I would gladly nominate them for it. They have been brilliant. 

Tony is ten years older than me. He was an academic at The University of Sheffield - working in metallurgy - an area that has special associations with the city's traditional industries. He has a gentle, unassuming nature and a variety of interests that he has developed further since his retirement. For example, we often hear him practising his trumpet. He belongs to a local brass band.

A week never goes by without me having a chinwag with Tony - usually when we are getting things from the boots of our cars. After thirty years there is an ease and mutual respect in our communication but the other day he said something a little surprising. It was along the lines of the fact that whenever he speaks with me the conversation always seems to turn to serious subjects.

We laughed about that and he admitted that his family often accuse him of being poor at small talk. Like me, he doesn't go in for tittle tattle and light-hearted gossip. We wondered if there might be evening classes that men like us could sign up for - evening classes designed to improve our small talk ability.

I wondered if  YouTube instructional videos in small talk are available and Tony said that there might be a gap in the market. Perhaps I should make some. But how could I launch videos about small talk when, after sixty six years of life, I am still rubbish at it?

Anyway, I have done some investigations and research and I have come up with a script for the first video which will be called, "At the Dinner Party".

NARRATOR At dinner parties, it is important to relax and smile at the other guests. Don't touch upon controversial topics that might cause offence or disagreement. Remember to establish eye contact with the other guests and avoid speaking when your mouth is filled with food. Stick to inconsequential subjects as in the following example...

GUEST ONE Oh this lobster thermidor is delightful Graham...If you don't mind me asking, where did you source it?
GRAHAM I bought it at Tesco.
GUEST ONE Tesco? Oh what a  splendid supermarket chain that is. Don't you agree?  The checkout staff are so obliging. They never fail to ask me if I need help with my packing  even when I have only bought a loaf of bread. I remember a Tesco I visited long ago in Harrogate. There was a winsome dog tied to a post outside and I patted him. Then his owner appeared and she said that he was a rescue dog.
GRAHAM And so what happened next?
GUEST ONE Well I said goodbye and acquired a shopping trolley before manoeuvring it around the aisles. I collected numerous items including soap powder, baked beans and a six pack of quilted toilet rolls.
GUEST TWO The last time I visited Tesco, I also bought toilet rolls. I prefer the cream coloured variety to complement my bathroom tiles. That reminds me, we need to do some regrouting. Perhaps we should get someone in.
GRAHAM Well, we are having a splendid time aren't we? More wine anybody? 
___________________________________________________

NARRATOR You can see that GUEST ONE is relaxing into the evening. He has picked supermarket shopping as a conversational topic. Other inoffensive topics you might select include: gardening, fitting new curtains, making porridge, bird watching and hiking in The Lake District. You should avoid torture, illegal immigration, plastic pollution, homelessness, gun ownership in America, Boris Johnson and FSM. Such subjects would undoubtedly ruin a pleasant evening of civilised human interaction.

36 comments:

  1. Do your narrator also give advice? If so, please could you ask him or her to advise where I might be going wrong.
    Guest One: Oh this lobster thermidor is delightful Graham ...
    Tasker (interupting): Lobster thermidor? I bet you're another one of those bastards like Graham that voted for Johnson aren't you!

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    1. I just asked the narrator and he has got some advice for you that I cannot repeat as this is a family friendly blog.

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    2. Did his advice include by any chance the word "gob"? He must be from Yorkshire too if it did.

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  2. Ah, so that's why my OH doesn't get invited back a second time

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    1. OH? OH? Oh - you mean Other Half? Poor Peregrine! He needs to sign up for my online course. We will soon have him talking bollocks!

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    2. He doesn't need much help with that. I just need some help getting him to keep quiet

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  3. Sadly, that's not too far removed from conversations I'm often in with fellow females. It's a wonder anyone wants to talk to us, either.

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    1. A fellow is a man so how can you have a fellow female Marty?...I guess I am just making small talk.

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  4. I'm no good at small talk either. I suppose I CAN do it, I just prefer not to. But I'll tell you something- small talk can quickly lead to much deeper subjects. One has to begin with small talk sometimes to see if the person you're talking to might be amiable to going deeper. Often people WANT to talk about real things and they're just waiting for an opportunity. At least in my experience.

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    1. If I was at a dinner party in Florida I would avoid talking about Trump. You guys have got guns!

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    2. I would not be at a dinner party where anyone was a Trump supporter. That just wouldn't happen.

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  5. Polar bears jumping up and down are very good at breaking the ice.

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    1. If you don't mind me saying young man - this comment shows callous disregard for the perilous plight of all polar bears. (I am just making small talk).

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  6. I agree with Ms Moon that small talk can provide an useful intro.

    HOWEVER, the dreaded however, I do have to hand it to the English (I deliberatly do not refer to these isles as the UK since I have, largely, only encountered the English) that they have saying nothing down to a fine art. It's extraordinary. You can go forever and ever and be none the wiser. And everything is "nice". Needless to say that, as members of my country of origin do not pussyfoot around, I caused my future (English) husband no amount of anger the first few years on these sceptre isles. I particularly liked him driving back from dinner parties him berating me for who I am. He calmed down once he realized that my non-Englishness might have led to some too tooting among the "wives", but made me/us more than welcome on the whole. As one the directors of my husband's company remarked early on: "When Ursula is at the table it's never boring." I took that as a compliment. What we need is injecting a bit of passion into discussion, doesn't matter whether we agree or not. An opposing view so often useful to question and modify our won.

    As an aside, and one born out of exasperation, unlike in England house prices and mortgages are never discussed in polite company. Where I come from it's just vulgar.

    Anyway, on a happy note, let's look at small talk as we should look at being (reasonably) polite and the philosopher said: It eases the bumps of social intercourse.

    U

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    1. If we might be even more specific about these sceptred isles - many Yorkshire folk - myself included - consider ourselves to be Yorkshire way ahead of being English. Englishness is a secondary allegiance. I guess that this could be a good small talk topic before fists started flying.

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  7. I'm not much for small talk either. I never understood the point of it but as I've gotten older, I am finally getting the hang of it, although in a very weird way.

    As you know I'm a nurse and I meet people all day long, people that are terrified and dealing with a lot of shit in their lives usually. I keep it very generic unless patients want to go veer off into personal which it often does. I listen and I share, but mostly just listen. I think that's what most of us want anyway, someone to listen to us.

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    1. Rather than having shit in their lives, they'd be better off flushing it down the toilet - if indeed they can make it that far without a nurse's kind assistance.

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    2. I actually had a patient who was very constipated and I sent her home with instructions to have a shitty day. She laughed and I hope she did.

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  8. Nothing wrong with a bit of small talk. It may appear superficial (and one can easily keep it that way if so desired), but it can be used to 'ping' others, to get a first impression of their sense of humour (very important!) and eloquence. My job involved working at trade shows for many years, and you would not get anywhere without at least some skill in the conversation department. It helps not being shy, and I've never been afraid of making an unexpected remark, either.

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    1. It is a good job that I never got sent to any trade shows. I'd have been saying, "Let's quit the small talk and get down to the euros baby!"

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  9. Good heavens - whatever happened to that old universal standby - the weather? Now there's a topic we Brits can ramble on about for hours - no matter where we are or who we're with! With such scintillating conversation in your narrative YP, I'm surprised that everyone didn't fall asleep before the end of the soup course! Or should I say starters?

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    1. Oh yes - the weather! You are right to remind me of this CG. Perhaps my next YouTube video will include weather talk..."I believe that it is raining outside."
      "Raining? I think it is more of a drizzle or a heavy mist."
      "Perhaps you are right Lady Buckingham."
      "You should have seen the rain when we lived in Malaya. Came down in buckets."
      "I bet it was nothing like The Lake District in mid-summer. Now that is what I call rain Lady Buckingham".
      "Oh gosh! You always trump me Lady Fartington! It is one of your most endearing traits."
      "We aim to please milady."...etc., etc..

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    2. Racy stuff indeed!

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  10. A lobster thermidor called delightful Graham. That's unusual. I don't like having my food humanised.

    Topics of conversation are surely dependent upon the people involved and one person's serious topic may be another person's small talk.

    I have an English friend with two cars (for himself) in addition to his partner's and, of course, a 'country' house. He was a teacher and is very left wing, anti royalist, proselytising atheist, with a massive wine cellar and pretty extreme opinions on almost everything. So far as he is concerned if he's talking about it then it's not small talk. This all boiled to a head one day when I decided to throw a barbecue for the neighbours and the former staff of the business that I had just sold. So there was an eclectic mix of people many of whom did not know many others. I'm sure there was a great deal of small talk going on about the price of sheep, who had died recently, was so-and-so your second cousin? Etc etc.

    Someone mentioned football. No one to this day knows who or why. My friend made himself an instant reputation by announcing to the world that 'only morons follow football'. To him football was and is a topic below the level even of small talk.

    Have you noticed that most of the topics on blogs are pretty much 'small talk'. I've noticed that quite often if someone steers away from the banal response and comes up with an opposing view it often brings a sarcastic response. I've always regarded that as the ultimate put-off for discussion.


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    1. I think I must be a moron as I follow football and in my head there is an enormous amount of knowledge about football. I wish I had as much knowledge about psychology because then I would be a professor in that field and I would be able to better understand the dynamics of blog commentary. I may be being oversensitive but I have the feeling that you were alluding to me in your last paragraph?

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    2. Many apologies YP. I seem to have continued this topic on the comment by Red. It seems to be ongoing with Ursula. Please feel free to join in.

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  11. Well, if that's small talk, I'll do without it. It's boring. Now sorry, but I wouldn't spend any money on your video. Find another topic which is more interesting. Now I wonder if a video on paint drying would be a better bet for you making a fortune!

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    1. Don't pussyfoot around Red! Say what you mean! How about an instructional video on snow shovelling?

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    2. The interesting thing, YP, is that you and he are in some ways very alike. Your published views on many things coincide, you were both teachers and both have a love of walking. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of films and is well read. He is, however, extremely gregarious. If he thinks someone is wrong he just tells them they are wrong. I don’t think I have ever heard him use sarcasm.

      As you will have gathered, as a general rule, I have a severe dislike of the use of sarcasm. It is a tool you use quite often.

      I don’t need to tell you, a teacher of English, that sarcasm is a literary and rhetorical device that is meant to mock, often with satirical or ironic remarks, with a purpose to amuse and hurt someone, or some section of society, simultaneously.

      You might argue that there is no intent to hurt, just to mock ie there is no mens rea. However if the mockery hurts regardless then, I would suggest that it is still sarcasm.

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    3. Graham Edwards, nothing wrong with "mocking". The purpose should, of course, as you say, be "to amuse". Alas, to "hurt someone" is easily done. Not least to those who hurt easily. What we need in life is a bit of robustness, resilience. We are not snails which, at the point of slightest resistance, will retreat into their shell. Which is fine if you are a snail. Survival instinct. However, humans have evolved beyond.

      Referring particularly to your last paragraph: Don't you agree that we need to take some responsibility for how we react to what, after all, may be quite innocent? Other than that, I maintain that sarcasm (irony's devil of a younger brother) brings spice to life. Ah, the art of the repartee!

      U

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    4. I agree, Ursula, with some of what you say although I much prefer direct talk to mockery and particularly to sarcasm. I have a pretty thick skin. I worked with politicians and lawyers all my professional life which should tell you something.

      This started a few posts ago when Lee (who is a very thick-skinned Aussie) was the first to be irritated by a sarcastic remark. The defence to that was basically get a thicker skin. My answer is 'no, enter into a dialogue if you disagree'. Mocking achieves nothing except potential alienation and a halt to the discussion.

      I would ask the questions "Why is it necessary to mock?" "Why not just disagree?"

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    5. Thank you for your considered reply, Graham. Always a good start to a conversation.

      To pick up your main point: Sarcasm and dialogue (whether there is disagreement or not) are not mutually exclusive. We all have different "styles" of communicating, putting our views across. By way of example, the Angel (that's my son) thinks my sense of humoUr not only questionable at times but often so dark the onlooker can't see it. Tell me about it; I am the one who has to live with the fallout, not least in blogland which is littered with sensitive souls who'd shriek if a goose said boo to them. Which reminds me: In an earlier comment to YP you mentioned that blogs are largely "small talk". I don't agree. Blogs come in many shapes and sizes. Some do a lot of baring of the soul, some take their blog to the level of incessantly bleating about the bad deal life has served them, others focus on one or two particular interests.

      Back to your observation regarding "small talk", what a lot of blogs have in common that the blogger expects their commentators to stroke their ego, an echo chamber by another name. If you (the reader who comments) doesn't perform you are out on your ear. It's horrible. Give me sarcasm any day rather than a bruised ego. With people like that their is no discussion; only doors, and worse, shut in your face.

      Whilst I think it a pity that, as you say, "mocking achieves nothing except potential alienation" there has to be give and take in any discussion. Do you play chess? Many an opening gambit. The art is, a bit like poker, and indeed in any exchange, to keep one's cool. One of the problems being that instead of taking a view as a view it's taken as an attack on the person - forgetting the actual subject. Bingo. Now you have conflict. People going first on the defensive, then on the attack.

      I am not sure where this thread started (you refer to some previous exchanges which I may have missed); I'd like to say that I find YP's blog's angle of interest to me. I also find him infallibly polite even when he may not be in complete unison with one of his reader's opinions. And a bit of subtle sarcasm (for me, the recipient) never goes amiss. It sort of softens the blow rather than being faced with the firing squad.

      U

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    6. I think the first point I’d make is that you and I may differ on what is ‘small talk’. I think that I said that we may all differ in our view of what ’small talk’ is.

      Firstly I admit that my Blogland is purposefully quite small. I choose blogs and bloggers I find interesting. I generally avoid conflict for lots of reasons one being that, like this conversation, it takes up far too much time when I would be doing other things. Today (small talk!) I was supposed to be out all afternoon at my son’s for my grandson’s birthday but they still haven’t arrived home so I’ve reallocated my time and factored in this discussion because it’s interesting (and civil).

      Of the blogs I follow some mix in provocative topics with mundanities. Some are personal ’small talk’ and a few deal with serious issues occasionally. My two blogs started off as diaries but are now largely just a mix of things that take my fancy. Mostly, I suspect, would fall within YP’s definition of ’small talk’.

      However, I do not consider ‘uninteresting’ and ’small talk’ to be oxymorons. What is uninteresting small talk to one person may be interesting small talk to another.

      YP said “Other inoffensive topics you might select include: gardening, fitting new curtains, making porridge, bird watching and hiking in The Lake District.”. This might reasonably be assumed to mean those topics are small talk.

      He went on to say “You should avoid torture, illegal immigration, plastic pollution, homelessness, gun ownership in America, Boris Johnson and FSM.” As topics for blogging they are not topics I would chose to blog about nor to comment upon as a general rule. Other people may do so all they like but I’ve seen relatively few such post on the blogs I read.

      I’m very happy for anyone to criticise my point of view and enter into a discussion so long as they are happy if I rebut it if they don’t convince me. If they do I’m happy to change my view. I have got past the dogmatism of the certainty of youth and have reached the age when I realise that we can’t all be right.

      On many topics in our respective blogs YP and I agree: we are both left of centre but I’m nearer the centre than he is (I think); we are both atheist (and I don’t think either of us are proselytising); we both love photography and walking; and so on. YP is a football fanatic and I’m disinterested (having given up my ambition to be a referee many decades ago). I enjoy cricket and rugby (I have no idea what YP thinks of them). Where we don’t agree I can think of few people whose views I would listen to and respect more.

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  12. I'm not very good at small talk but, at dinner parties, I do like to ask people a lot of questions about themselves. As soon as they commence their monologue I can concentrate on the serious task of eating and drinking.

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  13. Methinks the conversation around this table is getting a bit difficult to follow. While you go on, I'll just quietly google "thermidor"... (fiddling quietly with phone under table) - Did you know that "thermidor" is the eleventh month in the French Republican Calendar, and the lobster dish may have been named either directly or indirectly after it?

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    1. That was new to me, Monica! A gem of information that could come in handy at a pub quiz :-D

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