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6 June 2007


Shouting on the phone is picking a fight with someone you cannot have a fight with; ideal for bullie

By Simon Munnery

A man walks down the street shouting expletives at the top of his voice. Is he mad? Or on the phone? And since – from a distance at least – you cannot tell which, may we conclude that they are equivalent; that shouting on the phone is a form of madness? Certainly it makes no sense; the increased volume is not transmitted; the signal breaks up; and the person on the other end naturally moves the phone away from their ear. They will probably not be aware what you are shouting, only that you are shouting – and thankfully a long way away. Shouting on the phone is picking a fight with someone you cannot have a fight with; ideal for bullies and cowards.

Strange the importance given to phone calls; we interrupt perfectly adequate conversations when the phone rings to start another before even knowing who it is we will be speaking to. Simply because a conversation is on the phone it has priority. How bizarre, how rude it would be were it deliberate, but it is a result of our having accidentally conditioned ourselves to answer the phone when it rings. And even when not on the phone its shadow blights our lives – in a sense we are permanently on edge, waiting for the blessed/cursed thing to ring. I think I am developing a new form of tinnitus – I keep hearing a faint version of my ring tone. I may not be imagining it – it’s a widely used tune.

Some people swear so much – every second or third word – that it ceases to be swearing and becomes more like a carrier signal. It’s hard to tell if they are letting off steam or winding themselves up, and of course if something really bad happened they’d be at a loss for words having worn out the normal options by overuse. Perhaps this is why new swear words seem to be cropping up. Someone called me a ‘bamberclot’ recently – presumably an amalgamation of bamber and clot; a clot being someone a little foolish or clumsy, and bamber a reference to Bamber Gascoigne the erstwhile questionmaster on University Challenge, i.e. Someone that asks too many silly questions.

Of course one must be wary of accusing people that shout on the phone – or indeed anyone – of madness – or indeed anything; there’s a Gypsy saying “when you point, three fingers point the other way” – i.e. back at you, the accuser. And Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. It was good he said it that way round, rather than “Cast the first stone he who is without sin” or there may have been confusion leading to tragedy.

So I think to myself: Am I mad? Thinking, for example, could that be regarded as a branch of madness? When you’re thinking – I mean if – it’s as though you were talking to someone. But who are you talking to? Yourself? Then who’s doing the talking? And where ultimately do ideas come from? The mysterious source of the inexplicable, in my experience. And catalogues, for the ladies.

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Descartes said “I think therefore I am”. I go further: I say “I think therefore there’s two of us – at least.” One to think the thought, the other to understand it. It’s quite plausible: There are two halves to the brain; we’re all ringers.

What is each of us but an amalgam of voices? People hear voices all the time. Their own mainly, blabbering away. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s other voices rattling round my skull; my mother’s, my father’s – “Don’t do that, stop that, put it down, no, no, don’t, don‘t, don’t shoot” and so on.

If correct this makes relationships more complex than previously imagined; in any couple there are four at least; no wonder difficulties arise. People talk about relationships as if they existed independently; as if a relationship could be changed without changing one or both of the people in it. “I want to change our relationship; I’d like to be taller than you from now on.” And to talk about doing something is often a means of not doing it: “I must fix the roof”, for example – and in the saying of it it’s never done.

Perhaps the blame for the confusion can be put on the word relationship itself; it contains ship, and so that metaphor is often applied. On the rocks for example. And as every woman knows; if your relationship is becalmed, start rowing.

Little things irritate on a long voyage: She doth leave the lids off. Lidless Marmite jars I can accept; dead flies and mouse droppings are presumably what it’s made from anyway so adding more should make no difference. I am no superman but it is my kryptonite; I need tongs just to think about it. But the other day she left the cork off a bottle of wine – and there was more than two mouthfuls left. I had to pour it through a sieve to get the flies out.

Strange that society frowns upon both incest and bestiality, when they are opposites. Incest leads to inbreeding and genetic errors and is inadvisable, but bestiality could be looked at as outbreeding – increasing the diversity of human genetic material. That is, if it worked. Perhaps some passionate advocate of evolution such as Richard Dawkins could provide leadership in this field. Perhaps he already does – who knows what goes on behind those high Oxford walls.

I’ve not read ‘The God Delusion’ but I do not need to: I simply imagine the kind of arguments he makes and then demolish them one by one. It’s great fun.

To use the phrase genetic engineering devalues the word engineering; genetic meddling would be more accurate. The engineering equivalent of what geneticists do would be tossing a load of concrete and steel into a river and if someone managed to cross calling it a bridge.

But which animal should Dawkins choose for the expansion of the human genome? What qualities should we be seeking to acquire? I suggest those of the tiger. Of course seducing a tiger would prove a challenge. You’d need to buy a lot of dinners. Flowers, chocolates, candlelight and soft music are all an unknown quantity. The cinema’s out, likewise the theatre. Flattery and stroking seem a good idea. Kissing; risky, likewise plying the tiger with wine … And at some point you’d just have to take a leap. You could drug the tiger, but then that’s not love, and love may be important.

Hey there! If you are prone to generalisations, make them sweeping.

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