Curmudgeonly. It’s not how I think of myself to be honest. Much as I loathe hippies I suspect I am a bit of a “flowers in my hair” type of guy at heart. Or at least I would be if I had hair. Or flowers.
Yet recently I had to phone a few wards for various reasons and I found myself becoming one of those outraged types who wanted to write to The Daily Telegraph demanding that someone bring back the birch. All because many of the people answering the telephone exhibited the social skills of Simon Cowell with a hangover.
Whatever happened to greeting, ward name, nurse name, how can I help you? Four people in a row answered the phone by saying “ello”, “yeah”, “hello” and - my personal favourite - “yo”, giving the impression that they had in fact been listening to gangster rap and waiting for puberty rather than working on a hospital ward and being aware that it was possible that a patient’s relative might be on the other end of the line.
Now, of course, I know that busy wards can make for distracted staff and perhaps mean they become so locked into the day that anything outside the immediate environment feels like an intrusion, but should callers have to ask if they have the right ward? Or even the right hospital?
‘If I put on a few pounds I don’t wobble around a bit in front of the mirror and suggest in hushed tones I may have caught “obesity”’
Anyway, maybe it’s me. Maybe I am a grump. It’s true I cannot stand bad manners. I think politeness is an expression of self respect. It reminds us - along with flip flops - that we are not monkeys.
Of course it may be that in my middle age I am drifting ever rightwards, becoming a curmudgeon because - and forgive me if this is turning into some sort of confession - the other day I found myself agreeing with something someone in the coalition said.
No, of course it isn’t any of this “big society” nonsense. I find that terribly sinister suggesting, as it does, that the most useful activities in the social world - healthcare, education, policing - can be handed over to volunteers. Rather it is the suggestion by health minister Ann Milton that we might replace the word “obese” with the word “fat”. I have long felt the word “obese” medicalises a largely unmedical body shape that has medical consequences; it may also patronise people in its attempts to avoid either being rude or the health promotion nightmare of “blaming” the patient.
Frankly if I put on a few pounds I don’t wobble around a bit in front of the mirror and suggest in hushed tones I may have caught “obesity”; I point out the fat and throw away the KitKat.
Given the complexities of self image and empowerment that underpin changing unhealthy lifestyle choices, might it not make sense to assume a language of honesty and clarity from the beginning? Perhaps the word “fat” feels rude. Perhaps it feels like an insult and so we opt for something with less history, more neutrality. But perhaps using understandable and accurate words that may genuinely empower just demand more adept communication skills? And perhaps we are too busy to apply them?