The Short A

 

I’m reading Theodore Dalrymple’s book, Life at the Bottom. It was very good until page 81 where he says “… with the glottal stop and other vocal mannerisms of the lower classes, such as the short in words like class and pass”. This is taken from his essay, Uncouth Chic, written in 1998.

This is nonsense. The glottal stop is one of the many things that has spread upwards from the speech of the uneducated, to become almost normal in British speech. It cannot be compared with the short A. It is the long A that has been incorrectly inserted into words like “class” and “pass”.

The lower classes (as he calls them) in the Southern areas he describes in his book use the long A as well. They may make it sound more like an “ar” sound than an “aa” sound, but it’s lengthened nonetheless. The long A is a Southern characteristic and one must not fall into the trap of thinking anything Southern is “posh” and anything Northern is not. Furthermore, the long A is plainly incorrect most of the time as a gander at a dictionary would tell you. I have seen some that would provide both “glaas” and “glass” as pronunciations of “glass”, but largely they have not yet modified themselves for this recent Southern linguistic domination.

Due to the influence of television (something Dalrymple decries elsewhere in his book), the lengthened A has spread out of the South to the bottom of society elsewhere. An educated Midlander is unlikely to lengthen an A, but the more common Eastenders-watching fool is quite likely to, especially if young. Outside of the South, the short A is indeed a signal, but one that indicates the complete opposite of what Dalrymple claims. Those still using the short A outside of the South are probably higher up the ladder than most and are likely to be quite far removed from the Southern and Southern-influenced bottom rung.

IvMa and Forgiveness

 

IvMa and I have a lot in common. It would be crass to say what we have in common and what we don’t, but here we go: IvMa is wealthy, young, entrepenuerial, very intelligent, well-educated and he once killed a friend by accident. I have never killed a friend by accident.

I discovered him at least a year ago and f0llowed him for a while. He tweets, he blogs, he’s in the odd magazine. He’s at that level of fame. He writes well (Eton and Cambridge should have helped with that) and as I said, we have a lot in common, minus that killing your friend part.

IvMa’s deadly youthful transgression is well-documented and easy to find out about on the internet. If you know who I’m talking about, great. If not, it won’t matter.

Neither him nor I have anything to gain from repeating the events of that day, however that one particularly tragic and particularly stupid accident lingers in my mind. I was reading a post of his that was typically well-written and interesting, as well as somewhat relevant to my life and what I am doing with it now. Somehow I could not let my mind wander from the fact that he killed his friend. He has blood on his hands, he did the time and all that, but still, he killed a friend, and whatever aspects of myself I see in him aside, he did that bad thing and I have never done that bad thing.

This is a massively unchristian response. Emotions frequently are unchristian, but alas, we must try to deal with them.

Unless he is a cunning sociopath, fooling us all, he has most likely put himself through the most painful of mental torture for years. I have legitimately no good reason to believe that he has not done penance for his accidental crime. He probably cannot go an hour without thinking about that day when one rich boy’s luck finally ran out, with the result harming mostly his passenger and not him.

When I first pieced together his story, I had a kind of symphonic sympathy for him: multifaceted, profound, grand. That remains, but with less practical use (for me at least). I could not enjoy his perfectly reasonable article because I knew about his background. I knew about the one day he did not win. Everything did not work out and money and connections could not reverse the bad result of his actions. Things did not go his way for one measly day and I, as a mere spectator, a humble reader, cannot immerse myself in his writing without thinking “he killed his goddamn friend”.

Should I hold an accident against him forever when I have every reason to believe he has punished himself enough already? When even my own government believes he has been penalised enough and rehabilitated? Is that right? Is that sustainable?

If IvMa and I had done more than walk over the same setts, would I feel differently? Would his more apparent humanity and fallibility allow me to forgive him for the kind of mistake one of my friends could have made? If I had done the same, could I forgive myself?

The Public

“… I used to do college dates, and I actually had to stop doing them because it was just… David Sedaris, in one of his books, has a great thing about how, when you work in front of the public, you really want to view people as unique, special, and rare unto themselves. But, then, the more time you spend, the more you realize everyone’s the … same. I used to do these college dates. I’d go and I’d make a month’s rent in one night, so it was kind of hard to say no, but I had to stop doing them because it got so sad, like, people in the Q&A part going, ‘Are you ever gonna win a staring contest? Ha ha ha!’ And it’s not their fault. That’s, I guess, a relatively clever question if you’re a fan of the show, but after the 10th time, it started to make me feel really sad.”

Andy Richter

It Does Hurt to Ask

 

“It doesn’t hurt to ask” is an innocuous enough phrase, but it concerns me that even management blogs and career advice websites convince unsuspecting young professionals of this nonsense.

 

Here are some times when it definitely did hurt to ask:

  • A recently-appointed cleaner who annoyed us and did lots of things wrong wanted us to “sport” (support) him getting married, which would mean either paying for it or giving him a loan which he would probably have no intention of paying back. Our opinion of him went from “incompetent” to “incompetent and cheeky”. Firstly, he had no right to ask. Secondly, he was still on probation which meant he could be fired with barely any notice (not a good time to be starting a new life with a new wife). And thirdly, why would he think we would want to refuse a request for money and then have him moping about our house near all our things?
  • A business I bought came with a guard. Upon receiving his first monthly salary from my company (which was identical to his last salary from the previous owners), he complained. No one else had received an increase yet either. He really might have had an increase if it weren’t for his attitude. “Give me more money! You’ve known me for three days!” He later turned out to be as pathetic as this episode would indicate.
  • A recently-appointed cleaner (different from above) wanted Ramadan timings (shortened workdays to compensate for fasting). That sounds reasonable enough except that he wasn’t Muslim and therefore didn’t observe Ramzan. He was quite good otherwise, but that, once again, cheeky request made us wonder if he had a lazy streak in him.
  • Around Eid time, some Muslims generously give eidi, a celebratory gift somewhat like a Christmas present, to people around them. Like Christmas, children usually benefit most, with other relatives and close friends coming later. Although I’m a Christian, a painter still wanted a cash eidi from me after painting one of my businesses. He had no prior relationship with me and he messed some things up. Would I want to hire him again when he shamelessly asks for gifts? And not just any gift, a gift given in celebration of something that I don’t celebrate. He may have been just a painter, but no one wants to work with someone they don’t respect.
  • In response to an email informing her that she had been shortlisted for a significant position in one of my companies, a candidate told me “I wanna do job for minimum 1 year contract”. Yes, she really wrote “wanna”. The cherry on top was that it was supposed to be an answer to the question “If your current position requires notice, how much notice is required?”. She hadn’t even been offered the job yet. Obviously, this disqualified her and she was immediately taken off the shortlist.
  • A friend of a friend who I had known for a few years called me up and was excited about a business idea he had. The idea wasn’t terrible and he said that he wanted “dynamic people” like me to work on the project. He described it to me and I gave him some free advice as there were a couple of really apparent big holes in his plan. He asked me to come up with some big written strategy based on my suggestions. I didn’t want a job; he called me; you never headhunt by giving people unpaid work – you headhunt by giving people things that they want. It’s slightly rude, certainly amateurish and it made me end the conversation rather quickly. No one wants to answer a call from a friend of a friend and be given unpaid work. If he went about it in a different way, maybe we’d be working together now.

 

Yes, bring it up with your boss if you’ve been doing great work for months or years and you don’t feel adequately compensated. Yes, ask for help from the right people if you really need it. Yes, stand up for yourself. But don’t impose your wants on people and don’t assume everybody with a bigger wallet than yours is a magic genie to solve all your problems.

In general, don’t ask for gifts. Bonuses are a bit different, especially if they’re standard and expected in your field (e.g. banking), but even bonuses shouldn’t be asked for or complained about. Enquire if you think some great achievement of yours has been overlooked. Ask what you could do to improve. No one likes a whiner even if you’re right.

A lot of this is basic Golden Rule empathy stuff that everybody should’ve been able to thoroughly grasp by the age of 9: if you were them, would you want to be treated in this way? Or would you feel annoyed, awkward, imposed upon? After the request, would this person want to see you more or less?

Subtle Distinctions

 

When I was about 17, I had a conversation with a couple of friends from my old school. I was at university at the time but one of the two was still at my old school and one had left and was at another school. As it’s an old British school, my school had a house system. It’s not very strong and I was never into athletics while I was there. I never won anything for my house as far as I can recall. Both friends were similarly uninterested in such things. We discussed the houses we’re in. One said to the other that he didn’t seem like a member of that house. She wasn’t a particularly observant girl, but she hit on something that had percolated in my mind for ten years at that point: there are differences between the members of the houses. It’s indescribable.

It’s not that Streetonites are athletic and Napierites are academic, or whatever it is that the previous generation claims based on the Sports Day results of their era. It is way more subtle and unimportant than that. Affinity for your group is one thing, but it’s quite another to have a gut instict for identifying the houses of people who largely had no say in which of the four houses they were arbitrarily assigned to. And yet, somehow, this is a widespread phenomenon (if I may extrapolate from my sample size of three).

We discussed a few people we knew and which houses they were in with similar comments popping up occasionally. All three of us had this concept that someone could seem like a member of one of the houses as a result of no describable thing.

There is legitimately no good way these differences between the members of the houses and commonalities between members of the same house could have come about. At boarding schools, which have literal houses in which the children live, obviously there are ways and reasons, but at this day school, how?

 

I grew up partially in Amington, Tamworth, Staffordshire, which is in the English Midlands. As a Midlander, I don’t really have a dog in the North-South fight. Southerners would like to think I’m from the North, but geography rather undermines this binary perception of England. Scots aren’t thought of as Northern, even though they’re even further North than Northerners. The East and West of England as well as Northern Ireland and Wales are also not really involved in it.

Despite all of this, I recently looked at the website of a small company which had a dozen staff portraits on its front page. I immediately took a dislike to the company because they looked like Southerners.

Southerners, despite what a Yorkshire lad may tell you, are largely not of a different race to people from the North. I can form no coherent explanation why I would perceive these innocent souls as Southerners simply because of the way their faces looked in sterile corporate headshots.

Many of my favourite people are Southerners and I have had no personally negative experience with a Southerner. Although my English ancestors are largely from Lancashire (including parts which are now Manchester) with one significant branch around Halifax, Yorkshire, I have never lived in the North. Nor has anyone ever described me as a Northerner, even as a joke (although I have been accused of being Southern numerous times). Nor can I seriously say anything against Southerners. Although I may be able to half-remember a joke or two, or even complain about the London-centric media we have with even the formerly Manchester-based Guardian now publishing the kind of articles that only make sense if you have a dim Londoner’s typical big-city solipsism. But I digress.

Nearly all of England is lovely, as is true of most European countries (trust me, I’ve been to half of them), so why would I have anything against a company because their staff apparently look Southern to me somehow? Prejudice is a strange thing.

Taxes on the Wealthy

 

My experiences match those of Scott Adams:

“One of the odd things about my career, and where I live, is that I meet a lot of billionaires and hundred-millionaires in the normal course of my work. Allow me to label my experience anecdotal and rare before you do. Anyway, my experience is that all the super-rich people I meet seem to have a few things in common:

–          They don’t need to work.
–          They all work 60+ hours per week.
–          Every penny they make from now on will be spent by others.
–          They are trying to find the best way to give away their money.
–          No one likes higher taxes.”

Interview with an Ebola Survivor

“When they let me go, they gave me clothes and Doctors Without Borders gave me a lift back home. When I was getting out of the car, they took my hand to prove to other people that I wasn’t contagious anymore, in order to avoid stigmatization. Some people were scared and holding my hand was a great symbol of my recovery. They also gave me a certificate that proved that I was fully recovered and that nobody should fear me. Then my friends started to cheer me and shake my hand. I thank God for that. Some people now call me ‘the survivor’, ‘anti-Ebola man’, or ‘The Revenant.'”

Saa Sabas as interviewed by Julian Morgans