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Sunday, July 14, 2024
Laterally SpeakingWhat shall we talk about

What shall we talk about

Apparently, not that much. Talking is a dying art form. Human beings no longer chat to each other: they prefer to text or Facebook each other even if they’re in the same room. Like many of us from an older generation, I was brought up to never discuss Religion, Sex or Money in polite conversation with strangers. Too personal, too private and too much information for anybody, particularly if you’ve only just met—either face to face at a party or virtually on a mobile screen. But, in any event, these three taboo subjects are out of date in today’s world. Here are some pointers on what else not to talk about in 2017.

We used to occasionally discuss politics in our house but Theresa May’s decision to hold an election on June 8th changed all of that. Quite suddenly I now find myself supporting a different political party from other members of the household. My children have emerged as radical extremists with overt sympathies for either Julian Assange or militant Veganism while my wife and I are arguing about which party poster to put up in the window. Will it be blue or red or orange or green? The only thing we’ve now agreed is not to put up anything.

This has never happened before. Our domestic unity is now a shattered memory along with warmed Hovis bread rolls and prawn cocktails served in glasses. I can’t even discuss politics while writing in this magazine because electoral rules forbid me promoting one party without mentioning all the other parties at the same time, and I don’t have a spare ten hours to read through the long list. So, Politics as a subject is completely out for the moment. Of course, if you’re reading this after June 8th, you can start arguing all over again but by then the outcome may be academic and a ‘fait accompli’ for another five years.

I blame Brexit of course. The ‘B’ word has ripped apart the social fabric binding all our friends and relations over the last six months. I know of other family members who say they won’t talk to each other ever again. We have banned discussing the ‘B’ word in our house for fear of a guest being speared by a fondue fork over the dinner table. You can’t even think about Brexit let alone mention it in polite conversation. This means that all of the following subjects are now out of bounds: Europe, Brussels, Strasbourg, The Single Market and (especially) Jean-Claude Juncker. And while you’re about it, please don’t talk about all the lovely European places you’ve just visited on holiday. I’m sure you had a wonderful time soaking up the sun in Crete, Spain, Greece, Italy, South of France and the Algarve, but please stop talking about it. Nothing to do with politics but everything to do with making me and everyone else jealous. ‘Too busy to go on holiday in May. Bah Humbug…

Here’s another piece of good advice. Unless someone specifically asks you about them, never volunteer unprompted information about your children. As you know, other people’s children can be a most boring subject. You’ve just been introduced to somebody new and within two minutes they’re off on a rant about their daughter Fridgia who is SO brilliant and how she’s cycled around Thailand after Uni and had the MOST wonderful time etc etc. This is not particularly exciting or different or newsworthy. It’s not even remotely interesting since I don’t know anything about dear Fridgia or whether she’s good at mending a bicycle tyre puncture. Of course, if she had done something really interesting like becoming the first person to travel across the Atlantic on a Lilo or escape from Pentonville Prison while doing a five year stretch for fraud, then that suddenly is a fascinating subject to keep anybody glued to your conversation. So, this is yet another taboo subject to not talk about—your children (unless they’ve climbed Everest backwards or won an X Factor heat while spinning plates with a bamboo stick—maybe both at the same time?).

My other non-subject for discussion is literally a pet hate. Never talk about your pet unless someone else has already raised the subject or you’ve got something really interesting at home like a tame Koala or man eating crocodile in your garden pond. Discussing the merits of your pet goldfish while sipping a glass of tepid Prosecco is not going to set the party on fire. Again, talking about your fitness levels within a minute of meeting someone and how you like to run half marathons every Thursday morning can be a little intimidating. As I stand and listen, am I supposed to join you in my running shoes or join the queue for cardiac arrest in A&E?

And never mention social media (and how Donald Trump writes to you and fifty million others individually five times every day) or your latest fad diet involving nettle soup, tadpoles and seaweed. You will have lost me by the time you end the first sentence. And if you really want me to collapse in instant boredom, you could start talking about your Traffic Route—the worst subject of all to raise. It goes something like this…

“Terrible traffic on the A35, got stuck behind a muck spreader near Honiton and a Jurassic coast bus at Axminster which stopped EVERYWHERE but had nice colours on the side, then blocked by a plague of seagulls in West Bay but unfortunately Broadchurch is no longer on, then met the train at Dorchester but it goes SO SLOWLY from Poole onwards doesn’t it, awful bank holiday traffic all the way to Bournemouth, they really should do something… etc…”

I could keep going, but I don’t think there’s anything left to talk about.


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