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  • Writer's picturestrie4




Now, that is a strange idiom, ‘to get my goat’, the origins of which I was unfamiliar. It comes from horse racing. It was believed that goats had a calming effect on highly-strung thoroughbreds, so a goat was placed in the horse’s stall the night before a big race. Thus, when the horse became fractious and unsettled, the cry went up, “Get my goat!”


As no goat shared my bed last night, I feel free to identify six things that unquestionably get my goat.


‘Elf ‘n’ Safety. No surprise, here, to those who know me. My impatience with pointless rules and regulations knows no bounds and I regard it as my bounden duty to ignore them, sometimes, I admit, to my detriment. I was slung out of my GP surgery at the height of the Covid folly, sorry, pandemic, because I wouldn’t wear a mask. I didn’t see – still don’t – what benefit they brought. Those who wanted to wear masks were perfectly free to do so, but by the same token, if I didn’t want to wear one, then I was equally free not to do so. Anyway, the time of the mask debate has long since passed; it was like a bad dream from which we are only now waking up.


There is a gate by the Rackets Courts at Malvern College, which is now permanently shut. I enquired as to the reason. Health and Safety, I was told; it led out onto an awkward bend in the road. If all awkward bends in the road up and down the country were closed, none of us would get very far on our travels. The fact is that there has never been an accident at that gate ever since Malvern first opened its gates – all of them – in 1865. Ah, but something might happen, I was told. I pointed out that lots of things might happen – biblical floods, nuclear war, a Lib Dem government, Tottenham Hotspur winning the league – but we cannot live our lives continually asking the question ‘what if?’.


If a rule is self-evidently practical and sensible, of course I will obey. It seems like a good idea to drive on the left when everybody else does. And a 30mph restrictions in built-up areas is about right, in my view. But so many pettifogging restrictions on everyday life I find irksome. If loss of life and risk of severe injury are feasible and possible, then of course we should be warned. But so often, nobody is in danger, nobody is going to get hurt. To be told to hold onto the handrail while walking down steps is infantilising us….and makes me cross.


Inaccurate English. Well, you would expect that from me, a former English teacher. Language is what separates us from the apes, so it is beholden on us humans to use it correctly. I am not so much of a pedant – though my children reckon I am – that I find every little mistake, mixed metaphor and hapless phrase worthy of censure, but accuracy of expression is something I demand and point out when missing. Take for example a piece I heard on the news recently. It went something like this: “A body has been discovered in the woods nearby, but the police are unable to make further comment until their remains have been removed for post-mortem examination.” I see…so there were two bodies, maybe three, or even four. ‘Their’ is definitely plural, more than one, at the very least. I know what has gone on here. The speaker, not wishing, or not able, to identify the body as male or female has taken the lazy way out and used the plural. Inaccurate! Misleading! Or this: “It is wrong to denigrate a man or a woman solely on account of their sex.” Wait a minute. Does each have more than one sex? Of course, it could be argued that both were having lots of sex, but that is an entirely different matter.


I note too that people are turning themselves inside out with confusion about identifying the sex of the protagonist or character in these madcap days of ‘trans rights’, desperately searching for a third sex where none exists. (‘None’ – ie ‘not one’ - is singular, please note. Many don’t. Now I am being pedantic!) And how about the imbecilic demand to change ‘fishermen’ to ‘fisherthem’ and renaming Manchester ‘Themchester’? Homo sapiens is coming under fire too from the PR zealots but I have a friend who says that the name has always been incorrect on every count – men are just not wise.


The example that really gets my goat is this: “The work was done by John and I.” The rule about the subject and the object of the verb is so simple that to get it wrong is unimaginable. But many do.


Parking Meters (though I did spot one somewhere spelt ‘Parking Metre’, which presumably was keeping a check on the increasing girth of modern cars). More and more, I am aware of people of a certain age peering anxiously and uncomprehendingly at the instructions how to pay for parking their car. I’ve seen some airily waving their mobile phones at the machine without the slightest clue of what they are doing. I have every sympathy. I don’t even attempt the process myself, leaving the Byzantine procedure to my wife, which sometimes flummoxes her too. It used to be easy paying for parking. You would feed in the requisite coins, a ticket would emerge, you would display it on your dashboard and Bob’s your uncle….you could  go on your shopping expedition secure in the knowledge you would not find on your return a fixed penalty notice affixed to your windscreen. No longer. You need a PhD in Technology these days to park your car.


As for having to pay to park your car in hospital car parks…. that is a national scandal.


Rewilding. A colleague of mine at Malvern College mischievously suggested during one Common Room Meeting that the Senior and Junior cricket pitches should be given up to uncut grass and wild meadow (at least I think he was just being mischievous). The fact of the matter is that I am a cricketer and I like a close-cut outfield and a stripey lawn. Together with my wife, I occasionally tune in to Gardeners’ World in the hope of picking up the odd gardening tip. But I note that nowhere in Monty Don’s garden is there any grass, cut or uncut. His gardens look very busy, overflowing with flowers and shrubs but no open space, no stretching lawn, no carefully tended sward. (Monty Don hated his time at Malvern; perhaps it was there that he developed a dislike of a well-manicured cricket pitch, slap bang in the middle of the College.)


As for the Chelsea Flower Show…. I somehow feel it has become a case of the emperor’s new clothes. Designers are falling over themselves to produce the wildest garden, with a rusty old car or shopping trolley or abandoned threshing machine thrown in for artistic effect.


Lest I am accused of nature vandalism. I hasten to make it clear that I am not opposed to all rewilding projects. Some meadows, green spaces, village greens, parklands are areas that need not be cultivated or mown and readily and pleasingly lend themselves to nature’s dominion. A carpet of buttercups, bluebells, daisies, primroses and others, the names I know not, makes for a beautiful sight. But so does a mown lawn and a cricket pitch. Balance – in nature as in everything – that is what I seek.


Peletons. Fine in the Tour de France, not so good in the winding, leafy lanes of Surrey, or the country back roads of Worcestershire. I suppose we can trace the explosion of cycling in this country back to the London Olympic Games in 2012, at which Great Britain won a record number of gold medals in cycling. It is undeniably a good thing, both for the soul and the body, for so many people to embrace the sport and to take exercise en plein air. But sadly, bikes and motor cars are a match made in hell. To share the same piece of tarmac invites trouble, nasty accidents as well as frayed tempers. I have a cycling friend who contends that a cyclist should be afforded the same respect by a motorist as a horse and rider. If it takes ten minutes to pass safely, then so be it. With that I have no problem (though I am not a busy man with an appointment to make or a meeting to attend). What I object to is a string of cyclists, ten or twelve or more in number, all doubling up (whatever happened to the Highway Code insistence that cyclists should ride in single file?) and making the passing manoeuvre practicably impossible. I can understand going for a spin with your wife or your mate (I suppose that could/should read ‘and mate’)…. but a dozen of you? Clogging up the lanes and all shouting to each other at the top of their voices (I beg your pardon, ‘at the top of his or her voice’)? C’est bizarre!


Race consciousness in adverts. Last but by no means least of my betes-noires is the specific and requisite number of black, mixed-race and Asian actors in any given advertisement on television. We are watching a bucolic scene where everybody is tucking into sandwiches buttered by our favourite brand. Oh yes, of course, it must be a family of a black father and a white mother, with a bevy of gorgeous, brown-skinned children. But where is the Asian? Ah, there he is, obviously a friend of the family and you’ll never guess what…. he’s married to a Chinese lady! I have a game which annoys the hell out of my wife. I shout out when I spot the obligatory black, brown, Asian face, always happy and smiling, on screen. Sometimes I have to wait a second or two but as sure as eggs are eggs, up he or she pops. 


I will not have it that I am a racist xenophobe. I have played a lot of cricket, with and against West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis, and nothing but respect existed between us. Let me therefore turn the debate on its head. If I lived in Barbados (oh, heavenly chance) and I saw an advertisement on the local television station full of white folk, I would scratch my head and sense that was not right. On the island 2.7% of the population is white. In England and Wales, 9.3% of the population is Asian and 2.5% black. Not that you would deduce that from our advertising.


Furthermore, my wife says why would she buy clothes that are modelled by a beautiful black woman? What suits a flawless ebony skin would not go with an Anglo-Saxon complexion.


Once again, the idiots seem to have taken over the madhouse. We are so in thrall to the PC brigade that we are losing our sense of proportion.


I should be intrigued to discover what gets your goat.

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