Things I don’t understand

I’m fortunate enough to have had a pretty good education and I’m probably reasonably intelligent, but there’s a lot of stuff that I just don’t understand.  Maybe, if I outline some of my issues, I can find help out there.  Before I go on, I should assure you that this will post will avoid use of the B word or the C word, since feedback from at least one reader (hi Tom*) has persuaded me that it’s time to focus on other matters once in a while.  I may well drop the ‘C bomb’ (as my big sister puts it so politely), but the ‘other’ C word, so close to my heart, will remain absent.  Probably.

Undoubtedly, each day I think too much about too many things.  Mostly they are rather trivial and I suspect that most of you will think that I should concentrate on the other more important aspects of life.   Should you read on (and I can hardly blame you if you now decide to bail on me), think about what it is like inside this old, balding head of mine and wonder at my ability to exist in a world so at odds with how I would like to live.  This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t really crop up in everyday conversations, and if it did, I’d almost certainly find myself alone at the bar again.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the things that I (still) don’t understand.

Roasted parsnips.  In truth, it’s not that I don’t understand roasted parsnips; they are simply root vegetables cooked in an oven.  As someone who is happy to eat most things, I just don’t understand why these white wannabe carrots are so revolting.  Perhaps I had a bad experience when I was little.  Perhaps they’d be better with custard, rather than roast beef.  Perhaps not.  Strangely, I do not find them offensive if they are creamed or mashed.

Selfish, rude, arrogant or ignorant behaviour.  This is a big one.  It will crop up in various guises a number of times hereafter.  I think I live in a world in which I have this utopian ideal that we are all nice to each other, just because it’s nice to be nice.  Selfishness, arrogance, rudeness and ignorance are some of the least appealing human traits, but maybe I’m just too sensitive.  Feel free to add some of your own examples in the comments, if only to make me feel better by reassuring me that I am not alone.

Caravans.  I fail to understand the appeal of driving around with a large piece of Tupperware strapped to the rear of your motor.  Top tip: try Gooooogling ‘hotels’.  Anyway, much to my surprise, I had a couple of letters about this printed in the Grauniad a few years ago [#lametofame], but I really can’t be arsed to go over it all again. If you are interested, click these links and scroll down to ‘Don’t be fooled’ and ‘Home truths on caravans’, respectively: 

Dogs.  Actually, I’m fond of most animals and I have no particular problem with our four legged friends, so my issue with dogs is not so much with the little furry critters themselves; rather, it’s the people who choose to own them and then spend the rest of their lives walking around picking up the interminable piles of steaming excrement.  Of course this is a vast improvement on those ignorant c***s who’ll happily leave the shit for me or my toddler son to dodge at a later date, but where are we in evolutionary terms when man-follows-canine-into-park-with-polythene-bag-then-walks-around-with-said-bag-filled-with-pooh?  Dogs are clever, right?  They can be trained, right?  I’m thinking point-dog-in-the-direction-of-a-cat-digging-a-hole-scenario.  Need I say more?  One more question.  Dog owners: Why would you pick up the pooh in your  tiny plastic bag and then toss the bag/pooh combination into the hedgerow?  My guess is that this is not the action of a genius.

Rocket science.  To be fair, I have never studied it in any sense at all, but I’m sure it would be complicated.  The same goes for brain surgery.  I do know that the Pope shits in the woods and a bear is indeed Catholic, or something.

Litter.  I’ve written about this elsewhere, but it’s a real bugbear.  Perhaps I can understand why people drop litter when they are left with little alternative – think major public event or airport or railway station (yeah, thanks a lot wannabe terrorists!) when bins are few and far between, if not completely absent – but what about those who eject rubbish through car windows, or those who discard a burger box onto the pavement when stood not ten feet from a bin?  Why would you not take the crap home with you or use the handily placed receptacle?  I genuinely would like to know what is going through the mind of such individuals.  Perhaps they see it as a means of job creation/preservation.  I even see discarded gel wrappers, drinks bottles and inner tubes when I’m out on the trails on my mountain … erm…, two-wheeled chain-driven vehicle.  Have fellow riders so little concern for their precious singletrack environment?  Frankly, I find it really depressing.  Why would you not take care of these facilities and show some respect both for those who built them and others who come along to appreciate their existence?

Town centre drunks.  Why should the emergency services have to tend to a bunch of inebriated morons every Friday night in just about every town around the country?  I may have made up this last bit in the style of that hideous tabloid The Daily Hate, but I’ve seen snippets on the tellybox where some gobshite oiks are being fished out of the gutter by paramedics, while in the background we can hear Sharon screaming “leave it ‘chelle, ‘es not worth it!” as some Neanderthal bouncer ejects yet another betattooed, slack-jawed imbecile from the Red Lion.  Would you want to go out and get completely wankered if you knew that there were no public servants to pick you up and patch you up when you’ve wet yourself and puked all over the Halifax ATM?  Actually, I find myself torn on this one.  I really don’t understand why we tolerate such behaviour, but at the same time I’m glad to live in a society in which dozens of young men and women aren’t left to drown in their own vomit.  Maybe if help were not available, the problem would fizzle out.  Who knows?

Women.  I’m confident that I’m not alone on this one.

Pelican crossings.  Here’s one that could save the planet.  Trust me.  I sometimes don’t understand the thought process of those who are shaping up to cross the road via that marvel of road safety furniture, the pelican crossing. Pedestrians – do us all a favour, and have a look at the traffic situation first.  If you can see several cars and thereby deduce that a freestyle traverse would be dangerous, by all means press the button, but pause for thought and think about the alternative if there is not much about.  Maybe it would be better to wait a moment, allow the car to pass and then cross the road, without the little green man’s help.  I for one am not happy to have to stop at a red light for the sake of one pedestrian, and here’s the crucial point, when there is nothing else on the road to delay said pedestrian after I have passed.  Imagine the amount of fuel that is wasted each day by unnecessary stop/starts at crossings.  I realise, of course, that this assumes that people are capable of making decisions about what is safe or otherwise, and that pelican crossings are there for good reason, but this is just one of those trivial examples of where people could be encouraged to think about the impact of their actions, rather than simply relying on the technology to control the situation.  Yes, it’s a bit ‘random’ (as you young people might say), but surely you can see my point.  I bet someone could calculate an estimated energy saving to illustrate the wisdom of my thinking.  In summary, I don’t understand why you would want to cause a vehicle to stop when there is a safe, green option just seconds away.

Drivers.  There’s plenty of mileage here.  Why would you sit in the middle lane of a 3 lane motorway when there’s loads of traffic behind?  This effectively reduces the road to a dual carriageway.  What are you thinking?  Similarly, why would you indicate when there is nobody around to benefit from the signal?  Think about it.  The purpose of a signal is to let somebody else know that you are going to do something, so if you have checked your mirrors and checked ahead and around you and there is nobody to see and respond to the signal, what are you doing?  I’ll tell you what you’re doing.  You’re sticking to the ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ mantra drummed into you by that fat bloke with the terrible body odour, rather than thinking about your driving and dealing with the conditions around you.  The same applies when you faithfully follow the lane markings on a road.  What if the safer line is to straighten the bend by crossing to the other side?  It can be perfectly legal, don’t you know?  It can also be safer because it opens up the view and it reduces the inherent risks of cornering.  Think about which side of the road you would use when you are overtaking.  [Disclaimer, for the hard of understanding: clearly, you need to be aware of other road users and the prevailing road markings.  I am simply suggesting that someone who is thinking about their driving rather than switching to autopilot is more likely to be a safer driver.]

Personal ignorance.  Why would you not want to acknowledge an act of kindness or common courtesy?  I’m thinking about those moments when I pause to hold a door open for someone, or when I slow/stop to allow an oncoming car through a narrow stretch of the road.  A simple “thank you” as you pass through the door, or a gentle wave of the hand or even a single finger lifted from the steering wheel is all it takes.  Imagine how much nicer the world would be if you cared to respond positively and politely to minor acts of care from fellow humans.  What reason is there for not acknowledging such things?  I really would like to know.

The English language.  Specifically, their, there and they’re; your and you’re; it’s and its.  I know this is not at all interesting, but what is the problem here?  How is it so difficult to understand?  There seem to be so many otherwise ordinary people who can read and write but cannot see the differences in what they are reading and writing.  I don’t understand how you have been failed by our educational  system (apart from the fact that many teachers now seem not to know the difference).  I realise that it really doesn’t matter, but I also know countless people who have even been to university but they still don’t seem to grasp this one.  How is that possible?  While I’m at it, what about plurals and other misplaced apostrophes and punctuation.  Do yourselves a favour and have a read of Eats, Shoots and Leaves.  If you can understand the title and the difference in meaning brought about by an absent comma, you are well on the way.  You may well enjoy the book because it has that rare quality of being funny and informative about punctuation.  Whodathunkit?  [EDIT: I know this is going to open me up to problems.  I’m sure there’s a rule that states that as soon as you start banging on about particular failings in your fellow beings, you will invariably fall foul of the same failing, or will make some other more embarrassing faux pas.  There will probably be errors in here, so feel free to point them out. I need to know.]

Reality television (whatever that means).  Why on earth do so many of us sit and lap up so much nonsense?  Back in the early days of Big Brother, I was living with my employer and his family.  The television seemed to be tuned permanently to Channel 4, so I was exposed to more than I would have liked, but it struck me at the time that this was simply a vehicle for extroverts and show-offs to show-off and, well, vert.  After a short while, it simply became tedious.  A dozen years on, television seems to be awash with countless individuals of similar talents, or lack thereof, participating in programmes designed to make somebody famous for 15 minutes, or to make somebody else richer through their ruthless exploitation of the poor mildly-talented-but-desperate souls who have been (inevitably) on a ‘journey’ which has been (invariably) ‘amazing’.

Bankers’ bonuses.  Now, I really should know better as I worked for a major financial institution for many years, but I fail to understand the scale of payments made to these city boys and girls.  Call me simple, but if banks are able to pay multiple employees bonuses of the order of seven figures, surely they are not giving their customers the best deal.  I understand the need for profit and I understand the rationale for paying bonuses, but are the sums involved so large that even the tiniest of percentages amount to millions of pounds in profit?  If I were a client expecting my bank to handle large amounts of my cash in a proper manner, I wouldn’t begrudge a few quid for their professional services, but if millions were being creamed off to finance some anonymous wide boy’s charlie habit, I think I’d be a bit miffed.  Curiosity got the better of me, so I just did some sums; a quarter of one percent on 1 billion is 2.5 million, or in more tangible terms, if I have a measly one thousand pounds, at the same (unlikely, but illustrative) commission rate, I’d be paying just £2.50.  I suppose I simply have no real concept of the actual sums being traded/invested/borrowed out there.  It’s rather like wondering why somebody would pay a quarter of a million for a classic car, when as a percentage of their wealth this sum is probably less than you or me paying ten grand for a Ford Fiesta.  Back to the point, though.  In this hypothetical example, would 2.5 million (pounds, dollars, euros, whatever) be an ethical fee for a (simple) financial transaction?  Perhaps it is, since if you were able to invest one billion pounds at a flat rate of, say, 3%, the gross return would be just over £82,000 per day.  On balance, it looks like I just don’t understand the size of the figures involved.

Labels.  Why are we happy to walk around like mobile advertising hoardings, and here’s the crucial part, when we have paid for the garment?  I’m thinking of the countless T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with Adidas, Nike, Abercrumble and Fitz, Ben Sherbert et al (sorry, can’t even bring myslef to write some brand names), or the ubiquitous baseball cap embroidered with NY or that god-awful Swoosh.  Are we so insecure that we have to shout to the world that we have enough cash to buy over-priced clothing and millinery, or do we simply want to conform to some marketer’s construct of fashion in order to blend in with the crowd?  In what way does a shirt benefit from the manufacturer’s name or logo plastered across the chest, or even discretely stitched into the fabric?  Is a white Ted Berry shirt or an Adidas cap any less desirable without the brand name on full view?  It just baffles me, so apologies to those family members who have bought me stuff in the past that I have refused to wear.  Undoubtedly, I am something of a hypocrite on this one.  My car has a Ford badge; I used to have a BMW from which I removed the model number (one of the few no-cost options); I like my 501 Levi jeans.  My difficulty is specifically with shirts and hats because of the full-frontality of their offending and offensive wordage and logos.  Just make ’em plain, please, and keep the label inside.

Tattoos.  I should be clear from the start that I am not good with needles, so this may well have a bearing on this.  I feel faint just typing the N word.  Thanks, mum.  Recent years have seen an enormous increase in the number of the great unwashed opting for this permanent form of skin trauma.  I can say this with some considerable authority, since I know of two ‘mobile’ tattooists within half a mile of where I am sitting; there are also at least 4 members of my immediate family who have succumbed to the thrill of needlepoint under skin action.  At the same time, my dad was a sailor and he doesn’t have any anchors, Phillipinos or dolphins adorning his back, biceps or pectorals.  To be fair, I cannot speak for what may be on his arse.  Anyway, I wonder what really started this bizarre fashion?  Evidently, there is something in human DNA which compels us to make permanent marks on the skin, since you can see tattooing in many cultures across the globe, and they can’t all have been influenced by D Beckham or R Williams.  [As an aside, if ever there were a good reason NOT to have tattoos, you need look no further than the aforementioned clowns.]  I had a good friend who was a Royal Marine Commando.  Tattooed on his arm was his blood group.  That makes sense, and I doubt you’ll find a Commando who faints in a needle/ink/arm scenario.  I also like the story of the woman who went to the tattooist and asked for an animal on both her bum cheeks.  “I can only do Bees” says the needle-wielding artiste.  “That’s okay, do one on each side” says the blonde.  Later that night when she’s bending over, ready to *cough* receive her lover, the moment of sweaty passion crashes to a halt as Cletus spots the freshly pricked decoration on milky white buttocks. “Who the f*@k is BOB?!”

Mumford and Sons.  Don’t they have a banjo player?  I’ll say no more.

Football.  Footballers.  Football fans.  Again, I have written elsewhere about my concerns over footballers feigning injury and generally setting a poor example, but recent news about a Premier League player earning £250k per week got me thinking.  Now, it’s some time since I last went to a football match, but even then it wasn’t a cheap 90 minute’s worth of entertainment, so what I cannot fathom is why your average working man (or woman) would blow so much of their hard-earned on entering our major sporting arenas.  I couldn’t help myself; I did some more sums.  Let’s assume an average weekly wage of £500 and a ticket price of £50.  Pretty simply, that’s 10% spent from the weekly earnings, or just 0.02% of the footballer’s wedge.  Apply these figures to the kickballer and he’d have to pay £25,000 to go and watch himself play, or remove his percentage from the fan’s wallet and he’d have to pay just 10 pence for a ticket.  So, why would your average Joe want to spend such a major proportion of his earnings to watch a bunch of prima donnas running around and falling over?

Everyday language.  Anyways.  Whoop.  Awesome.  Can I get.  New Years.  Whole nother.  Right there.  Speak English, please.

Jump cuts.  It’s not often that I get to see music videos as I get my fix of tunes from the studios of the unfailingly brilliant BBC 6Music.  When I do come across MTV or one of its competitors, I see that almost every video is pretty much identical in its use of the jump cut.  I think this is the correct term, and I’m confident it does have a place in the language of film and film editing, but when the view cuts every single second through the full three and a half minutes it makes the piece all but unwatchable.  More worryingly, this technique has found its way across to other genres.  For example, that bastion of testosterone-fuelled idiocy, Top Gear, is unable to run a car review without chopping a film into a thousand tiny glimpses of some Italian or German automotive masterpiece.  I want long, lingering shots, showing me the lines of steel, aluminium, leather and carbon fibre, not a mishmash of frames representing the misguided aesthetic, artistic excesses of a caffeine-stoked editor* called Sebastian.

Fog lights.  This is another of those things that just needs some thought on the part of drivers.  Not wishing to sound too nerdy, but the last time I looked The Highway Code stated that fog lights ought to be used only when visibility is down to less than 100 yards (or it could be metres), so why do so many reach for the light switch at the slightest sign of the grey stuff?  As an aside, I’d wager that many of us could not estimate 100 yards/metres with any degree of accuracy, but that’s not the point of raising this.  A rear fog light is to help you be seen; they are really quite bright.  As with the earlier observations on indicating, I’d simply like to understand why it is so easy to turn the lights on, but so difficult to turn them off.  If you think about it, once there is someone visible behind you, they are not going to benefit from being dazzled by a million watts of red.  Moreover, I’m convinced that the effectiveness of the brake lights is diminished if they have to compete with this permadazzle.  My advice is that if you are in doubt, check your mirrors and check in front of you; if you can see other lights, consider whether yours are a help or a hindrance.  If you aren’t sure if your lights are on, check your instrument panel.  There should be a warning light.  You’ll see it if you put the phone down for a moment.  You could also look in the mirror if you are stopped at a junction and you’ve finished your make-up or have squeezed that spot.  If the car and its occupants behind are glowing bright red, like they are parked outside some kind of Dutch super-brothel in Amsterdam, you may want to reach for that switch.  Okay, as before, I’m simply suggesting that this is an area of driving which betrays how much we are actually thinking about the job in hand or how much we are running on autopilot.

There are countless other problems on my mind.  Perhaps they’ll come your way soon, but I feel better now and think it’s time to sit back and wait for the debate to begin.  If I can bring a smile to your lips or plant a seed of doubt about the way you and your friends live your lives, the last three weeks of my life will have been worthwhile.  For now, I’m off to update my favourite tunes here:

* Since it was an editor who inspired this post, you should check out his work here: or @tombunton

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2 Responses to “Things I don’t understand”

  1. Mandy Turton Says:

    Blimey Col, you really do have a lot of gripes, many of which I agree with, in fact most of them; even the bit about tattoos even though I have a couple of discrete ones Myself as does my husband (less discrete but nonetheless not too bad) Ooh can add an additional rant, use of the word hubby, drives me mad oh yeah and “the wife” or “the mrs” we all have names! My main worry though is that you will become too stressed being irritated by so much that is going on around you all the time. Oh, just thought of another, people who weave on roundabouts, or islands as my Black Country family members call them! I have a horrible feeling I may be fueling the fire that is the CT rant…… you did make me chuckle a lot though x

  2. berevington Says:

    That wasn’t a rant, Mand. Do you want a rant? YOU COULDN’T HANDLE A RANT. ;0) Really, it’s just stuff that baffles me. I think I belong in an alternative universe. Or an institution.

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