“Sorry,” I say to a man who, enraptured by a game of Candy Crush Saga on his phone, steps on my foot when he stands up to get off the train. Damn my cursed foot and all of its footfulness, it just had to be there at that moment.
“Sorry,” he says back, restoring protocologorical equilibrium.
The two sorries bump into one another, then each one, respectively, says sorry to the other. The sorries’ sorries do the same, and so do the sorries’ sorries’ sorries, etc, etc. Meanwhile, nothing has really been said, and no one is offended. This, as everyone knows, is the British Way.
There’s even that word, that encompasses “sorry”, “thanks” and “excuse me”, that we use while making our way through crowded tube carriages. It sounds like “sks” and, according to tradition, it has to be muttered at a frequency that can only be heard by sea mammals. “Sks” basically translates as, “please forgive my wretched existence”.
But back to “sorry”. It’s been anything but the hardest word this week, with Lord Freud apologising for a repulsive comment about disabled people, Bono apologising for forcibly contaminating everyone’s iTunes library with the new U2 album, and Sainsbury’s apologising for being homophobic.
Particularly in the Lord Freud case, the question as to whether an apology is enough to get him off the hook has been asked again and again. And no, it probably isn’t. If a “sorry” was a person, it would be Chris Martin. If it were a food, it would be a water biscuit. If it were a colour, it would be somewhere between taupe and beige. Bearing in mind we apologise to people who tread on our feet, “sorry” means very little.
Students at Sussex Uni understood this when they, in spite of an apology from Sainsbury’s, organised a gay kiss-in at a Brighton branch where a lesbian couple were asked to leave the store when a customer complained about their “disgusting” kiss. Because, if porn has taught me anything, the one thing guaranteed to make people’s stomachs churn is a lesbian kiss.
Maybe, if Sainsbury’s had somehow been more than sorry, the kiss-in wouldn’t have been necessary. What we need is a new kind of “sorry”, one that’s totally separate from the sorry we say to people who bump into us.
For too long, saying sorry has been a get out of jail free card for people who burp opinions that would make Katie Hopkins blush, and then realise they’ve made themselves horribly unpopular.
Introducing, Sorry Plus™. You can’t just say you’re Sorry Plus™, you have to declare it, like bankruptcy. In order to be Sorry Plus™, you have to rend your garments, until you’re standing, completely naked, atop a pile of shredded fabric. The next stage involves filling a wine glass with your own tears, then drinking them. Only then can you consider yourself truly Sorry Plus™.
Public declarations of Sorry Plus™ would be broadcast, via the Sorry Plus™ TV channel, where we’d all be able to watch 24-hour coverage of politicians and CEOs being very fucking sorry. Millions would tune in to watch Lord Freud declare himself Sorry Plus™, or perhaps nor if, as I suspect, he isn’t all that sorry.
Eventually, this new version of sorry would lose its impact when someone declares themself Sorry Plus™ for being bumped into on the street. Then we’d have to introduce Sorry Even Plusser™. But, until then, I’m going to sit back and wait for the NUS to declare themselves Sorry Plus™ for their ludicrous decision not to condemn Isis. Or not, maybe.