Monday 15 September 2008

Rhetorical questions cost lives

I live in a small seaside town. It's actually a village, under strict technicality, which should offer some insight into the levels of inbreeding and unpleasantness which pervade the atmosphere. Regardless, it means the majority of my fellow man I see on a day-to-day basis are likely to be of a very specific type.

This is all the more so considering the times when I'm normally out on a weekday. Most outside ventures revolve around stationery shops for art equipment or the Post Office for everything else. Yes, I spend a lot of time in the Post Office. There I pay bills, buy stamps, post solicited drawings I have done, post unsolicited drawings I have done, file speculative, frivolous and contrived personal injury lawsuits, the normal things. This means I tend to be out during business hours, either in the morning or in the afternoon (our Post Office closes for lunch). In little seaside towns, this means you will either encounter elderly people (a.m.) or horrible schoolchildren (p.m.). The third possibility is manual labourers, but I bear them no malice. They have important, functional jobs to do in society and besides, unlike the young or the old, they tend to have some modicum of social conscience and present no problems to me.

The foul, wrinkled elderly scroate or the sprout-faced little brat have much in common. Firstly is the way that they tend to mill around aimlessly, seemingly out with no other purpose in mind but to loiter around the Cancer Research shop (elderly) or the newsagent (everyone). Secondly, they are all of a certain height, which tends to bring their face and my crotch into direct territorial combat. Finally, they both teach us much about the danger of rhetorical questions.

Let's start with the elderly. Here, the danger is one of Potential Energy. The rhetorical questions in this case tend to be mine, and muttered under my breath. Such as, "why don't you just meander in front of me when I'm in a hurry and then stop without any conceivable reason?" or "are you some sort of cunt?". The danger here is, of course, that one day I will snap and vocalise my griping complaint and end up with a walking stick up the hooter or worse.

With the young, the danger is a problem of Kinetic Energy. Here, the rhetorical questions are most often posed by their parents, guardians or court-appointed social workers. They all begin with the child in question being referred to by name. This being a working class community of not particularly bright or attractive people, and this being Britain in the 21st Century, these monikers are almost always risible in the extreme. No complaint there, I enjoy a laugh as much as anyone. This is followed up by the rhetorical question.

I am pretty sure there has been some sort of parenting manual brought out since I was young which informs today's parents to never make a definitive statement of any kind to children. So, "Edward, get out of everyone's bloody way, you idiot" has become, "Petruccio, are you looking where you are going?". It is a dangerous strategy, because children are all rat-faced and very stupid. Now you have an errant child wandering into the path of oncoming traffic faced with the prospect of having to consider the answer to a question as well. This is exactly what happened to me today. A child, distracted by the undeniably exciting sight of a manual labourer getting into his van, was wandering straight into my crotch's path and closing in fast. "Louis, are you watching where you are going?"

Well, naturally, with all that was going on in his eyeline plus the internal mental percolations, young Louis could not possibly have gotten out of my way in time. Normally, a quick swerve on my part will be enough to diffuse the situation. However, today I was carrying curtain rods, javelins and splinted cobras. Louis didn't stand a chance, as they went straight through his eye and into his brain, killing him instantly. I hereby predict that the next time one of Louis' mother's prodigious litter is wandering into the path of some only-slightly-moveable object, she will phrase her utterance with a lot more assertiveness. Still, you live and learn.

Obviously, Louis doesn't.

N.B. In case you are very stupid, I did not kill any children today, accidentally or otherwise. OK? Good.

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