Archive for December, 2004

The BBC recently ran ‘The Hard Spell’ – a televised competition to find “Britain’s best young speller”. In short, contestants were read out a series of words, which they then had to spell aloud. There was much praise for all the contestants, and of course the finalists – but what exactly are they being praised for? I’ll happily give them credit for not succumbing to stage fright, but at the end of the day they’re just spelling words.

Words, I might add, that they don’t necessarily know the meaning of. Words, I dare say, that they probably couldn’t use in a conversation if their lives depended on it. Ok, so they don’t need to know what the word means, as long as they can spell it, but to me it seems utterly pointless to learn how to spell reams and reams of words that you’re not going to use. A well-trained parrot could do the same thing, and I’d probably be more impressed.

Is there a point to this particular rant? Probably not actually – there was a point when I first started writing, but I ended up taking an unscheduled break due to illness in the family.

Actually, perhaps there is a point. So the best speller in the UK can spell all manner of words, I’m sure they can spell ‘meningitis’ – but does being able to spell the name of an illness mean that they have even the slightest inkling of what the ramifications might be if they caught it? Does the ability to spell ‘alcoholism’ mean that they’ll be able to avoid suffering from it when they’re older? Does the actual spelling of ‘Alzheimer’s’ in any way suggest how painfully protracted and heart-rending it can be for both the afflicted and those around them? I don’t think so.

Words have power, we all know that, but merely being able to spell them doesn’t signify a thing. It doesn’t mean that you’re intelligent, it doesn’t confer any kind of superiority – all it means is that you’ve done as you were told. I thought that learning by rote was outdated and obsolete, but maybe we’ve just taken a step back to a time when knowing what something is was the same as knowing what it was actually like.

Experience is everything, words pale in comparison. Perhaps those who believe in the Hard Spell should try learning things the hard way instead.

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Excuses, excuses…

An alien sighting, following winds, a dying hamster, and a desperate need for the lavatory, were all offered as excuses by speeding motorists. “It is quite amazing the lengths that some drivers will go to avoid a £60 fine and three points,” Ray King, of Northumbria Safety Camera Partnership, said.
The Times, Friday December 3 2004

It’s not amazing at all, Mr King. In fact considering the way we’re raised on lies it would be more surprising if we didn’t embroider the truth on occasion. Yes, I said lies – if excuses were true, then they wouldn’t be excuses, they’d be reasons. Right?

I expect many people would be appalled at my saying that we’re raised on lies, but it’s true.

Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, watching TV will give you square eyes and carrots will make you see in the dark, if the wind changes your face will stay like that, and if you pick your nose your brains will fall out… you get the picture yet? Ok, so we’re quite young when those lies are told, and perhaps they don’t make an impression (although the phrase ‘formative years’ does spring to mind…), but it doesn’t improve with age. At secondary school we’re lied to as a matter of course: the hundred years war (a bit of a misnomer that, eh?), Nelson’s last words (“Kiss me Hardy” – another convenient lie, as you’d feel a bit of a twat telling a class of kids that his final utterance was, in fact, “Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub.”), and of course the ubiquitous “your GCSE grades will have a real impact on your future employment”.

What about as adults? The theme continues: one size fits all, open wide this won’t hurt a bit… it’s not you, it’s me…

It’s no wonder we come up with dubious excuses at the drop of a hat, it’s just what we’re used to after all.

Oh, and Mr King? Perhaps you’re on a massively inflated salary, but to the rest of us £60 is a lot of money – and if telling a little white lie means we might get out of paying it, then so be it.

Besides, it wasn’t a hamster, it was a gerbil…

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A poster campaign reminding people that God is always there to hear their prayers opened in London. The Churches’ Advertising Network depicts Heaven as a call centre with operators wearing wings and the slogan: “It’s business as usual in Heaven. Lines to God open 24/7.”
[The Times, Friday December 3 2004]

What’s next, a premium rate number leading to an answering service for God? Give me a break.

24/7 telephone lines are, on the whole, a waste of time – so why the church believe this campaign will put them in a positive light is beyond me. My bank has a 24 hour telephone service… I called them one evening this week, and despite the fact that they were polite and solicitous the outcome of the conversation was that I had to visit my local branch to sort the problem out.

Great, very useful so far. Someone was able to listen to my problem but couldn’t help to save their life.

So, lines to God are apparently open 24/7, but even the most optimistic religious devotee will have to eventually concede that they’ve been put on the ecclesiastical equivalent of hold.

“I’m sorry but all our lines are currently engaged. You are being held in a queue, our next available deity will be with you as soon as possible. Your belief is important to us.”

What then, a sudden rush to their local branch – sorry, church? It’s possible I suppose, but even there they have little chance of any answer to their prayers.

And that’s the flaw with religion in general, and prayers specifically. It’s all very well for church representatives, in the comfort of their homes or offices, to say ‘God is listening’ – but what people actually want, and need, is someone to answer them. Listening has its place, but people need results.

“Thank you for your continued patience. In order to improve customer services we are attempting to keep callers informed as to how long they can expect to be waiting. You are currently placed 1,498,723 in the queue, estimated waiting time is infinite.”

If my bank can’t deal with my problems on the phone, and I have to visit my local branch, they can record it as a service failure (i.e. I’m dissatisfied with the service provided) and try to compensate me. If you pray to God (“Lines open 24/7”) and get no response, what compensation can you expect? Seems to me as though the church ought to be done for false advertising – although, let’s be fair, they haven’t actually promised any results, so perhaps we can get them for false representation of a product or service that can’t be proven to exist.

“I’m sorry, but we’re experiencing higher than usual call volumes and all of our deities are still busy. Please hang up and try again later.”

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