I'd like to start with a couple of apologies about my previous Post offering (Celebrity Cult — do read it, it wasn't too bad). I have been reliably informed1, for a start, that I misinformed readers on the subject of silent films. I implied that silent film stars never learned or recited lines in front of the cameras. This was, apparently, a gross distortion of the truth, for which I humbly apologise.
My second apology is a sort of proxy one2. One of the highlights (in my view) of my previous article was an ingenious pun on the double spelling of the word 'idol', the other spelling being idle, which led me to brilliantly dub celebrities 'false idles'. Genius. Which you, because the good people at The Post corrected my spelling, missed. I know. I was appalled. I, taking my cue from my own sharp eye critic, complained. Nicely, of course, one doesn't wish to offend. Anyway, I got a result, which is that when I returned from work today I found my door step adorned by a dead sheep, with a note attached reading 'Screw you then — Love, The Post Team'3.
So, as we have already seen, complaining brings mixed results, although I did enjoy the sheep. My point is, of course, that complaining works, but only sometimes. We here in England have a very special attitude to complaining. Many of us have been raised with the maxim 'I can't complain'. This may well lead the unwary foreigner to imagine that English people don't complain. Poor fools, we complain all the time. 'Can't complain', like 'mustn't grumble' is generally a response to a question such as 'How are you today?' or 'What's the weather like down your way?' and it means 'Bloody awful, actually, but I'm not going to sour my sunny disposition by going on about it'. It extends from the view that however bad your life is, you mustn't grumble because somebody else's is always worse, but that doesn't mean you have to let people wander around with the impression that you are happy, because they might take advantage of you to moan about their problems.
In any event, it's important to remember that the best things to complain about are non-attributable — that is, nobody can be blamed for them. Your health, hence, or the weather (of which much more later) or, because nobody really has the slightest idea whose fault it actually is, the economy. The worst thing to do is not only to complain about something that is someone's fault but to complain about it to the face of the person whose fault it is. Should you have a gripe about, for example, some rather heavy-handed piece of editing, don't complain to the actual editors. They might be offended, they might get aggressive, the may take unpredictable and unforeseen action. Worst of all, they may even correct the source of your approbation4 which would be a disaster. What else are we supposed to talk about?
Well, one thing we talk about a great deal, whether we wish to complain about it or not, is the weather. We are famous for it, or so we believe. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. Anyway, it's a favourite topic. Non-attributable, I said earlier, and I have to admit, to save people pointing it out to me, that this is also little short of a lie. The weather, it seems, is in fact our fault. Not just the English — it's everyone's fault. If you disagree, you're going to have to argue with the intergovernmental committee on climate change and, by the time you get your paperwork through to them, in all probability you'll find that either they've been proved wrong or you're dead. Anyway, while you lot are busy taking the bull by the horns and attacking the scientists, we here in the good old of U of K (no, it doesn't work, but we're not going to let the Americans have all the fun) have been doing something serious and useful. That is, we've been moaning about it. For ages. Long before the scientists figured out the weather was screwed up, it had become the central topic of conversation on this sceptred isle, according, probably, to some poll somewhere.
So what good is that? What, you may asked, have the British ever achieved by complaining incessantly? I could sum up the answer to this question in a single word and indeed Shakespeare famously said 'Brevity5 is the soul of wit'. Well actually, he didn't say it, he gave the line to the foolish character Polonius in Hamlet. Besides, anyone who's ever seen Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet will know that Shakespeare didn't know a great deal about being brief, and if you've ever been forced to sit through one of his comedies you'll realise that he isn't very witty either. Anyway, I think in order to address the impact of the complain strategy on the longer term environmental issues, we must take a look at a typical example of a complain, and see what it does.
Let us call our complainer Myriam Janine Lewis. She lives somewhere in, oh, I don't know, Peterborough. She has a husband and two kids. None of this really matters, but I thought I'd paint you a little picture of Myriam, just so you can empathise with her a bit. Anyway, Myriam has gone shopping today and she bought, well, lots of stuff actually, but the thing that we're really interested in is the lovely big gammon steak she bought for Sunday lunch. She bought some potatoes to mash, and she's going to make a lovely sauce. Myriam likes to cook for her family, you see. Anyway, fast-forward to Sunday and we shall find poor Myriam's bubble has been burst. She's defrosted the meat in good time and she's roasted it nicely but then she's sliced it open and found a shard of metal in it! Can you imagine?! Poor Myriam is both upset (naturally) and, more to the point, furious, that her Sunday dinner has been ruined. So she decided to make her feelings know. She writes to her local paper. She writes to her MP. Nobody these days writes more than two letters at a time, so she communicates her ire to most of her friends via the phone. Anyone notice who she forgot to tell? That's right — the supermarket didn't read the paper because they had other things to do, the MP didn't make a big issue of it because really he couldn't care less and her friends nodded and acted all disapproving but carried on shopping there anyway because it was convenient.
So, just to be clear, the one-word summary of the impact of complaining the British way on a situation was: none.
So what has this got to do with the state of the planet? Well, consider: what do we do that really pollutes? Heavy industry? Well, no problem there, because ours was closed down in the 1980s. We complained, of course, but mainly to The Times, so it made no difference. Cars pollute, apparently, but since our truckers respond to hiked petrol prices by driving cars quite slowly down a road, failing, as truckers really shouldn't do, to realise that they were only travelling at the speed traffic normally travels anyway, this didn't make any difference either. Are you getting a general picture here? Unlike in other nations, where protests and complains are sufficiently effective to have at least moderately functioning infrastructures, Britain's entire world is grinding to a halt, because we didn't like to mention it and cause any offence.
So there you are, complaining is the ecology of the future — and remember, you heard it here first. And if any of you guys from non-moaning nations want to pop over for a few tips on how it's done, we'd love to see you. We've organised a lovely queue, just for you to join.
Editor's note: The Post Team would like to point out that it was not quite so heavy-handed in its attitude towards corrections, but although it may fail to comprehend a pun, it has no objection to being poked fun at.