Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Mea Maxima Culpa

I'm afraid that I must plead guilty to the one trait I dislike more than any other - gratuitous rudeness. The nature of my rheumatics is such that I'm sometimes only comfortable lying down. At a quarter-to-six yesterday evening, I took to my bed with Radio3 and The Times. I got up an hour or so later to get some water. The phone rang.

It was one the those firms of fiscal ambulance chasers who wanted me to sue someone. Anyone, it seems, would do. I explained to the man that: apart from the £20 I owe a friend who helped me replace my blown-up microwave, I have no debt; I have no credit card; I pay people in cash which I draw from an instant access building society account; and, although I use a cash card for buying things on the net, the card account has no overdraft facility. He didn't believe me and started to argue.

"But surely you must have a credit card. Everyone has a......"
"What makes you think you know what I have better than I do?"
"What about a bank loan some time in the last six years?"
"No. Please go away. You're keeping me from my bed."
"Piss off!" Receiver replaced.

No sooner had I hung up than the phone rang again.
"Is that Mr Timothy Quirk of...." and he reeled off my full address just to show me, I presume, that he knows where I live.
"It is. But the only person to call me Timothy is my mother and even she doesn't any more as she died thirteen years ago."
"Sorry, Mr Quirk, for keeping you from your bed. Might I suggest that you'd get some comfort from a nice hot water bottle? Or perhaps you should go out and buy yourself a teddy bear? Would you mind terribly if I call you Timikins?"

This time the words "fuck off" were forming on my lips but I managed to hang up without further comment.

I'm deeply ashamed of myself. He was, after all, only trying to do his job, a poorly paid and pretty thankless occupation by all accounts. I expect his hours are long, the script to which he must religiously adhere, boring and the verbal abuse from the likes of me, very annoying. In future, when I get similar calls, I'll turn the radio up a bit, pretend that there's someone at the door and leave the receiver off the hook for ten minutes or so. At least that way I'll avoid trying to kick myself to death out of guilt for being nasty.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Please pooh-pooh "poo"!

Poo, or pooh, is a perfectly acceptable interjection expressing contempt. It dates from the late 16th Century. In the last decade, though, the word poo has come to be used almost exclusively as a synonym for defecation. As such it is priggish nursery-talk and to the nursery it should be banished. I blame all this pooing on those women journalists who write weekly columns in the national press. Their angst-ridden outpourings, usually dreamt up in bespoke home offices on the mean streets of Notting bloody Hill, are concerned mostly with the horrors of soiled nappies and with the unreliability of Bulgarian au pairs. Thanks to these hacks and their puritanical papers, the steady proliferation of the piss-poor poo word has continued unabated.

Two perfectly good colloquialisms meaning faeces spring immediately to mind. We borrowed 'shit' from one of the old Teutonic languages a good 500 years ago and 'crap' has been appearing in print since 1780 and probably earlier. Consult Mr Roget (he was English-born and the remoteness of his Swiss ancestry makes a "Monsieur" unnecessary) and you will find several other synonyms but no 'poo'.

Let's try to stop using the prudishly prissy 'poo' and revert to good old Old English.