Saturday, 17 January 2015

Thoughts spun, words mangled

It’s wonderful how the human mind can twist its thoughts to meet its wishes.

My wife has just finished her first week in a new post. Interestingly, she’s taken a job in the same line as our eldest son, neatly reversing the tradition of children following parents into their chosen professions. 

The stress of taking up a new position makes it perfectly comprehensible that this morning, a Saturday, she slept in a little.

But me? I had no such excuse.

The result of waking late was that, when I decided that the minor badminton injury I’m still carrying meant I shouldn’t play today, and that we could go for a swim instead, it was perilously close to the 10:00 end of the session at our local pool. In the end, we had only 25 minutes in the water, an embarrassingly short swim.

“Ah well,” I said to myself, “it’s best to start gently again after a week off for an injury. Gradually ramp back up.”

Now I know that’s just a variant on the sour grapes story: presenting the effects of laziness as an apparent instance of judicious thinking on my part.

Still, in the French version of the Fox and the Grapes story, La Fontaine finishes by asking whether the disappointed animal didn’t do better by writing off the unreachable grapes as undesirable, rather than living with his regret. “Didn’t he do better than to complain?” the poet asks.

The Fox and the Grapes:
La Fontaine gave a new twist to Aesop's fable
I think my gentle – how shall I put this? – readjustment of the reasons for the shortness of the swim, admirably fits that approach to life. It’s spin, of course, a key tool of us marketing types, and boy, is it useful. As any politician or other advertiser can testify.

The visit to the pool provided other lessons too. The Brits complain of the Germans devious use of beach towels to book sun loungers by hotel swimming pools, or deck chairs on the beach (odd term that, isn’t it? What deck are they on?) This is something my compatriots consider both deplorable and risible.

So it was amusing to find that a lot of the swimmers this morning had left their outdoor clothes and other kit in the changing cubicles, thereby booking them for their own private use. 

A secondary effect is that it avoids them the expenditure of 20 pence on a locker. There must be things you can still buy for 20p, but I can’t think of an example off hand. And certainly nothing particularly desirable. Many of these cubicle occupiers are children on swimming courses that cost their parents significant sums; it’s hard to imagine that 20p more would make much of a difference.

The habit’s particularly irritating when sheer numbers of people mean there are no other cubicles free, as was the case today. The solution was obvious, and we adopted it: we used the cubicles anyway. Telling kids frantically knocking on the door that the cubicles weren’t theirs to book was as satisfying as piling a bunch of beach towels onto one deck chair, to use the others.

Private booking of public amenities
Irritating but by no means confined to the Germans
Not that the kids will have learnt anything. Words are far less powerful than one likes to believe. But then, we misuse them so often. I recently reminded a colleague that others were waiting for him to complete a task, and he replied:

“Ah, yes, sorry, that still requires an action on my behalf.”

My view was that the only action required on his behalf was a well-placed but metaphorical boot up the backside. That might get him to do what was needed on his part.

But perhaps I’m being unfair, inferring more from his statement than he was implying. Or, as he would no doubt express it, the other way round.

Ah, words, words. How we misuse them. Back in the pool, I got to thinking about the word “cool”. I suppose its positive connotation comes from a certain ideal of calm and self-control. There are, however, plenty of things it’s not particularly cool to have cool: a bath, a coffee, a reception.

Come to that, the pool’s pretty cool. Which is one of the least cool things about it.

No comments: