Ask me nicely–please

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator - Les­lie Ged­des-brown

cup of tea with the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing that I’m wait­ing. Even­tu­ally, he turns up with a small packet and thrusts it at me with­out a word or a smile.

In con­trast to this, I find the same no­tice in a big Lon­don hos­pi­tal. The hos­pi­tal is a model of its kind, sparkling-clean, ef­fi­cient and friendly. I have noth­ing but praise for the place—ex­cept for the phar­macy, where that ‘Abuse… will not be tol­er­ated’ no­tice hangs above a nice, clean guichet. In the cor­ri­dor, there is a long rank of chairs filled with dis­grun­tled, wor­ried peo­ple. They, like me, have all been told it will take more than an hour for their pre­scrip­tions to be ready.

I sit next to a woman with a tod­dler. She’s des­per­ately wor­ried that she won’t get her pills in time to col­lect her chil­dren from school. Num­ber 87 is on the flash­ing dis­play above the counter, but her num­ber is 117—30 to go. Should she leave the pills for to­mor­row and go through the same drag again?

When I mention the de­lays to one of the con­sul­tants, he says that the phar­macy is un­der re­view and that per­haps Boots or Tesco will be asked to run it in­stead.

Doesn’t this say it all? The par­cel re­claim and the phar­macy are both run by na­tion­alised in­dus­tries; Boots and Tesco are fiendish cap­i­tal­ist en­ter­prises to which cus­tomers are im­por­tant. Can you imag­ine the abuse no­tice hang­ing above a Tesco check­out? Or that it would take an hour to get your pills at Boots?

I’m afraid that I have the same com­plaint against Buck­ing­ham Palace. Along with an im­pres­sive card ask­ing me to a gar­den party there—‘the Lord Cham­ber­lain is com­manded by Her Majesty to in­vite…’—came an­other, smaller white card. The tone is quite dif­fer­ent.

I can’t re­mem­ber the word­ing ex­actly be­cause I was so cross I threw it away. It in­sisted that se­cu­rity was para­mount. Phrases sprang out at me such as ‘Will not be Tol­er­ated,’ ‘Strictly pro­hib­ited’ and ‘Un­der no Cir­cum­stances’. Would you ask peo­ple to a party that way?

Every­one re­alises that, of all places, Buck­ing­ham Palace must watch its se­cu­rity, but my gripe is the use of such sten­to­rian lan­guage. It ex­em­pli­fies Shake­speare’s com­ment about ‘the in­so­lence of of­fice’. The same mes­sage could—and should— be soft­ened with po­lite words. Some­thing along the lines of ‘You will un­der­stand that se­cu­rity at the palace is vi­tal. Please could you make sure that you bring the rel­e­vant doc­u­ments with you? Thank you for your help’.

This says ex­actly what is nec­es­sary, but in a way to make a visit to the palace a plea­sure. It’s all a mat­ter of lan­guage—some­thing the grand viziers at the palace, the grumpy post­men and the har­rassed phar­ma­cists should all learn.

I know I shall, at best, end up de­pressed; at worst, in a rage

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