Letting Off Steam

johnny rotten qt

All you need is rage, says Frank, who has discovered that ill-tempered ranting is the secret to a long and happy life…

In the pub one evening, many many years ago, I delivered myself of a magnificently intemperate tirade of loathing about … oh, who knows what?, someone or something that had exasperated me. One among the company, a woman a few years older than I was, turned to me, placed a placating hand on my arm, and explained in a mellifluous voice that hate was a negative emotion and a waste of energy. She did not quite quote Lennon at me – “all you need is love” – but that was the gist of it. Now, I was young and foolish – and drunk – so her words had a startling effect on me, and I resolved thereafter to eschew hate in favour of love. No longer would I cast anathemas upon the asinine and the contemptible. I would be open-hearted and bountiful and positive.

I cannot recall how long I remained in this delusional state of mind, but I am now of an age where the letting off of steam and the babbling of invective are among the great pleasures in life. I can now see my friend’s advice for what it was – hippy-dippy twaddle. The only drawback is that one risks becoming a bore, either by rattling on about the same old topics, or ranting about the very same things that others have ranted about with spectacular virulence. For example, every time I hear a politician or pundit or spokesperson use the phrase “going forward”, I react violently. But others have picked up on this contemporary verbal bubo, as they have with “diverse ‘n’ vibrant”, and similar poltrooneries.

It should be noted here that a lack of proportion in one’s response is a key part of the pleasure involved in railing against things. We all lament poverty and war and hunger and pestilence and Paul “Bono” Hewson and Russell Brand, of course, so tiptop moaning has to be aimed at the lesser annoyances. Thus I would like to turn your attention to a couple of modern British plagues which, as far as I am aware, have so far escaped due attention.

I do not know who first started referring to the NHS as “our NHS”, though I would like to be able to blame Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham. I have never forgiven him for expressing the  desire (since realised, alas), when he was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, that public libraries become places “where people can chat and snack”. For that alone, he is cast into the pit. Whether or not he began the “our NHS” horror, it has since spread inexorably, to the point where hardly any politician, of any stripe, now dares use the neutral definite article. Use of the personal pronoun is now a badge which announces, queasily, “I care!” The NHS is “ours” in precisely the same way that every single government institution is, but nobody ever deems it necessary to refer to “our House of Commons” or “our  Ofsted”. Of late, I have been leading my own small fightback by saying “our Trident”, particularly when talking to those I suspect of Green tendencies.

There is something twee and infantile about “our NHS”, and it is even more marked in the current ubiquity of the use of the word “mum” instead of “mother”. “Mum” is – or ought to be – a term of affection, addressed to one’s own mother, unless of course one happens to be a child of A.S. Byatt, all of whom commendably call her “A.S. Byatt”. In recent years, however, all mothers are referred to as “Mums” (as in the website Mumsnet). All mothers, therefore, no matter if individually they might be hopeless or feckless or borderline psychotic, are somehow granted a special loving, caring quality. It is unimaginable, today, that a children’s television programme would be called Watch With Mother – though no doubt Watch With Childminder or Gaze Vacuously While Mum Chats On Her Phone would be the “appropriate” titles for such a show.

I placed “appropriate” in inverted commas because it is another word sabotaged by modern usage. But as I indicated, others have already hurled abuse on it – in this case Peter Hitchens, who memorably suggested we might drop “appropriate and inappropriate” in favour of good old-fashioned “right and wrong”.

Share This Post

About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

7 thoughts on “Letting Off Steam

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    April 24, 2015 at 10:26

    True, true, absolutely true, as one who is enjoying his seven and three sixteenth decade, still in one (more or less) piece I can but recommend to the house the fine old art of harrumphing. Like Will Danaher in The Quiet Man I have a book (a metaphorical one) containing names, drawn through the names are lines, indicating that the owners of said names have incurred my ire. Giving these names an occasional dressing down or, occasionally, a chuckle chat is what, in my opinion, keeps the cheeks rosy, teeth in situ and hair flowing in the wind.

    The list? I hear you enquire, non-alphabetical, obviously, how else could Vine be at the top.

  2. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    April 24, 2015 at 11:32

    Frank, you speak for us all. The lists are long – cf.Malty – and constantly added to, but I should imagine Dabblers to be in agreement on 95% of their conten.

  3. Brit
    April 24, 2015 at 14:20

    ‘Our Trident’ is very good. I’ll use that one.

  4. Worm
    April 24, 2015 at 14:51

    Having a pregnant wife I am currently at the mercy of ‘our NHS’ and there is nothing more annoying than all the baby talk the staff give you – addressing you as ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’ in the third person – “so has daddy packed all mummy’s bags?” etcetc and referring to ‘tummys’ and ‘wees and poos’ and all that stuff. Fair drives me bananas, but I guess most people actually enjoy it? Are they trained to talk in this way?

  5. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    April 24, 2015 at 15:27

    If they’re not calling you that, Worm, they’ll be calling you by your Christian name (without so much as a by your leave). Interesting that you don’t get that if you go private – why could that be, I wonder?

  6. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    April 24, 2015 at 18:38

    ‘Wor’ NHS, recent conversation with, “urology dept please?” “upstairs, turn left,” said ‘wor’ NHS receptionist. “This is the neurology dept” said ‘wor’ NHS brainz nurse, in an irate ‘wor’ NHS fashion. “Wrong end” I quipped in a ‘wor’ malty kind of way. ‘Wor’ shit faced NHS apparatchik remained impassive, in the default ‘wor’ NHS shit faced apparatchik kind of way.

  7. drnick@fionawadle.freeserve.co.uk'
    Mr Fiona T. Wardle
    May 21, 2015 at 08:38

    I myself have always had a metaphorical deep lime pit for chucking in steet traders of various hues who implore me to get “your lemons” or “yer Standerd” (sic). Have you ever tried to take back what is eclaimed as your own proerty from one of these persons?

Comments are closed.