I sometimes hate being English. It is so complicated. This is without me considering the countries that we used to own as right to buy tenants, shafted by the landlord English, who then ran off with all of the furniture the minute the tenants had signed the deeds. Yet consider it I do. As I say, it is so complicated.
Let’s say an Englishman, any Englishman, doesn’t have to be me, finds himself walking down a road that has a steep decline. I just happen to find myself doing this every weekday after dropping the kids off at school. But it doesn’t have to be me. Any Englishman will do.
I, or any Englishman, will invariably pass people that are walking up this decline, which they see as an incline. It is this perspective, sort of, that I want to discuss.
When is it acceptable to make eye contact with your passing traveller? Eye contact is a very un-English thing to do. It smacks of connection or emotion, and that simply won’t do. But it is trumped in the card game of life by awkward silence, the natural and deadly enemy of the Englishman. The Englishman can go through life without connecting or feeling emotion to most of the general public. They are simply the animated screensaver to the Englishman’s reality. What the Englishman cannot do is ignore a passing acquaintance. They do not need to know the acquaintances name. It is enough that they regularly pass them, as cable cars in a frosty decline/incline scenario - about 9am every weekday morning.
If eye contact is made from over 20 yards away, and is reciprocated immediately, then the Englishman has gone too soon and is unable to maintain his stare for the desired length of time and must look away. Further furtive attempts at eye contact at shortening lengths from the acquaintance now looked contrived and un-natural. The Englishman works extremely hard not to look contrived and un-natural. The Englishman will therefore give up attempts at a distance of 5 yards.
If the Englishman holds his nerve, recognises an acquaintance and chooses to make eye contact at the point of passing, then he is in real danger of committing social suicide and completely ignoring the passing acquaintance. This is a certainty if the passing acquaintance is a fellow Englishman who went too early with a 20-yard effort.
Is there a desired distance for acknowledgement? Italians are said to wave, and continue to wave, from anything up to 100 yards away, the French, 75. Rumours of an Englishman shouting from 60 yards away were dashed many years ago when it was discovered that he was in fact the adopted son of a Spaniard.
We must therefore conclude that it is only the Englishman that refuses to conform to uniformity when it comes to this dilemma. We are desperate to change but more desperate not to cause a fuss. Any inward desire for improvement is kept in check by an Englishman’s sheer Englishness.
I shall be down the same decline on Monday. Keep an eye out for me.