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Wednesday, 21 April 2010


My comrade in arms, AKA Skarra, the other half of Cheek to Cheek is trapped by an Icelandic volcano in Spain. Enthused by recent social psychology lectures, I send him a series of helpful texts and cheerful e-mails. The first of these cheerily suggests that we amend our current set list to include

" 've been thinking we should do a few covers. Some of these are based on personal experiences, so we should be able to put that little bit extra feeling into them. We could also modify them to reflect those new inputs, and this would give the songs that extra twistr that would be sure to get us on A RAdio Four programme. Here's a list:

1. (I'm not) Leaving on a jet plane
2. It's a long way to Tipperary (and Beverley)
3. When will I see you again?
4. Spanish Eyes
5. Show me the way to go home
6. Fly me to the Moon, or preferably Hull
7. Since you been gone.
8. King of the Road
9. The Wanderer
10. Back Home ( the classic World Cup anthem)

My intention is quite clearly to raise his spirits, trapped as he is far away from Blighty. I am therefore slightly surprised when informed that due to the sheer quantity of similar helpful suggestions from likeminded friends, Skarra is unable to answer at this time. Instead of fretting about the geological inconvenience imposed on him, he has gone on holiday, and has taken, it appears, to not checking his e-mail. Frankly, I am disappointed. My motives in relaying to him a series of jokes about yet another failure in European competition by Manchester United were motivated by sheer altruism. Admittedly, it had somehow completely slipped my mind that the person with whom I spend at least half of most of our weekly rehearsals talking about football was an avid, lifelong Manchester fan, but I thought he would laugh as I was forced to do when he sent me the fiollowing table shortly after it became obvious how the soccer season would turn out for us

Ultimately, Skarra's decision to just treat his enforced exiile as a vacation is sensible. There is absolutely nothing he can do about being stuck in Spain, so he is turing a minor inconvenience into something positive. A quick reading of the English media however suggest that by reacting calmly, sensibly and proportionately to the situation, he is in a minority. Reports from people returning, and still trapped abroad, feature interviews with people who describe the "nightmare" they have experienced in having to stay somewhere reliably warm for an extra few days, and how "devastated" they are. Radio call-in shows are crammed with idiots demanding the "something be done". Questions are being asked at the highest political level, and newspapers have become excruciatingly unreadable as the British ability to turn a minor inconvenience that, lets face it, for the vast majority of people (ie holiday makers) who are "stuck in limbo" should be an interesting, harmless and diverting addition to their life experience, into a national crisis. Parliamentary investigations have already been ordered by politicians who are apparently anxious to maintain a civic culture whereby the maximum of dullness, misery and pointless acountability is extracted from even the most uncontrollable, and potentially enjoyable happenstance. The British social norm is to never be passionate but the area where they come closest to approaching passion is in their capacity to remove the fun from everything.

Current lectures in social psych have led me to understand that by studying exceptions to the social norms is informative in developing our understandings. It is in a social psychology lecture about this, and frankly a determination to act as unBritishly about everything as possible, that I conduct a research experiment to test reactions to non-norm behaviour.

There are many types of voices - loud, soft, siblant, melodic, rhythmic. The voice of an adolescent hormonised male whispering to his paramour throughout a lecture is one which is probably best described as "annoying". It is especially annoying due to its unpredictabilty, but mostly because of the transparency of thought processes that slowly trudge through the neural networks adolescents - he knows that talking during a ledcture is distracting, annoying and rude. But he does it anyway. He also knows that whispering does not change the situation at all in that as a psychology student he has done some work on attention. But he still does it. This is infuriating. Fantasies of rolling heads in the row ahead of me, setas that disappear into the floor, a discrete injection enter the old head, but I rein in the wilder fantasies and decide in a quid pro quo solution. The boy's crime is mostly that he has unsettled me, disturbed me, thrown me off centre. If, I think, I react predictably - ie with aggression, or polite request, or adult disapproval,
the boy's response will be programmed. He will be able to accomodate, rationalise and respond according to his social schema.

I decide therefore on unpredictability. I prss his shoulder, firmly, but not impatiently or aggressively. He turns round and I stare at him. He looks at me questioningly so I wait, then just as he moves to turn back when I say nothing, I say as unemotionally, as unaggressively, as neutrally as possible "Shut up" and as I do so I very deliberately and slowly touch his shoulder, nodding. I then beam the widest smile I can muster. He turns back with a little shake of his head and an exchange of glances with his friend who also turned round. A few moments later, I reach over his shoulder and lay a piece of paper on the desk in front of him. I have written "Shut up" on the paper. He turns to look at me and I give him a double thumbs up with as little expression on my face as possible. He doesnt speak for the rest of the lecture.

I should add that, ex post facto to my experiment the realisation belated hits me that this very trait - the desire to "kick against the pricks" as it were - is itself very British. And I also consider the ethics of my experiment. It was, I conclude, wildly unethical, and slightly threatening. I could perhpas be reported, although all I did was act wierd.

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