Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Skim-read to reach out to curious headless martyrs

In the beginning, I’m assured on excellent authority, was the word. And just as well, I say. Because ever since words have provided us with excellent entertainment.

For instance, I continue to be enchanted by the expression ‘reach out’ with the meaning of ‘talk’, as in ‘please reach out to him and find out what the hell he thinks he’s playing at.’

The nice thing about ‘reach out’ is that it covers such a range of meaning. It can be used neutrally, as just a synonym for ‘speak’. Positively, it might suggest catching someone falling, providing crucial help when it’s needed. Negatively, it could be something that ends in strangulation, when the person reached out to has been more than usually obnoxious.

In the old parlance, that might have led to a good ‘talking to’. These days I suppose it would have to be a good ‘reaching out for’.

Equally, where governments used boringly to indulge in talks, now they can have meaningful reachings out. And in the preparatory phase, they would presumably have constructive reachings out about reachings out.

And then there
s another expression I’ve come to enjoy: ‘skim-reading’. This is a great euphemism for ‘not reading.’

Here’s the scenario. You write a key document. You distribute it to everyone. You wait a week or two. You hear nothing. So finally you ask, ‘Have you read my proposal?’

‘I’ve only skim-read it so far,’ you’re told. And you realise they haven’t even opened it.

It’s enough to make you want to reach out to them.

Fortunately, there are other words around that make up for this kind of experience, providing the light relief which is just the tonic we need.

Today I enjoyed reading about the Mars explorer that’s just landed on the red planet. It rejoices in the imaginative name ‘Curiosity’ and my paper informed me that ‘Curiosity has a robotic arm, with a scoop and drill.’

Interesting idea, isn’t it? I suppose curiosity can grab hold of you with all the power of a machine and then refuse to let you go. The scoop would be there to lap up all the random facts, and more frequently fictions, that curiosity harvests from gossip; the drill is for boring more deeply, as Curiosity likes to, leaving her victims painfully bored.

That thinking carried me through a London Underground journey, always one of the more purgatorial experiences, where a little gentle entertainment is particularly welcome.

Then I emerged from the station to hear a voice bawling ‘St Pancras, use the stairs.’

Later a headless saint, but today
he used his head to be less saintly

I looked everywhere for the martyr, but couldn’t see him. Certainly not on the stairs. It reminded me of William Hughes Mearns: 

Yesterday upon the stair 

I met a man who wasn’t there 
He wasn’t there again today 
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

My saint, like his man, wasn’t there. Even in the station he
s called after. Had he perhaps decided to be less saintly and cheat by using the escalator? If so, he clearly knew how to use his head. Which is remarkable since his head was removed from his shoulders when he was only 14. 

Which I for one find curious. And doesn’t that show how curiosity can scoop up any old string of words and derive whatever nonsense it likes from them?

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