Sorry seems to be the easiest word
By Barry Hill
Apparently, it’s an English thing to talk about the weather, to queue, and to apologise for everything, and I’m sorry, but I’m guilty of both being English and of saying sorry when I really shouldn’t.
Picture the scene: I am sat in my usual café (rock n roll, eh?) and someone comes in. The café I like to go to sort of invites strangers to chat, which is partly why I go. Well, I think it sort of invites people to chat. It might just be that it’s rude not to answer when I pester the complete stranger who actually only wants a quiet cuppa and the seat opposite me is preferable to the only other vacant seat that is opposite someone wearing a hockey mask. Anyway, back to the scene. I’m passing the time of day with someone across a table, and I naturally make eye contact like a sighted person would. I did so for the first 28 years of my life and it’s hard to disingrain (invented word) that behaviour. I’d feel odd sat there looking everywhere but at them, or sat with my eyes closed, even though that is very comfortable to do whilst slurping a coffee (try it). Although I don’t do it on purpose, I must fake the ‘sighted really’ thing pretty well. But once the gig’s up they get embarrassed/awkward/ and I feel that I have to apologise. Yup, I say sorry for making them feel bad that I’m blind. Go figure.
It’s the same when out and about. If I’m trotting along with my guide dog minding and getting on with my own businessthinking about food, worrying about my mum, or fantasising about a date with Joanna Lumley, and I bump someone I automatically say sorry. WHY? It’s not like I do it on purpose. What I really mean when I say sorry in this case is, “Do you want to borrow my dog, you klutz”?
On the occasions when I have ventured out without a dog, using nothing more than my bat sense and a long cane I really can’t help but to tap ankles and calves. And, of course, I can’t help saying sorry for doing so. But why? If I were a chip-shouldered blind man wading through a crowd, blithely swinging my cane like a scythe whilst whistling the Flight of the Valkyrie then perhaps the odd ‘sorry’ might be in order. But I’m not like that. Like an aged Bill Clinton, I walk slower and swing less.
A couple of weeks ago, I was out with my cane and in a ‘If I bump into someone today, it’s their chuffing fault so I’m not going to apologise’ mood. I bumped into someone and did just that. It was another blind man with a cane… and he was struggling. Typical. You want to just get on and bloody blind folk get in your way.
On more than one occasion I’ve apologised to inanimateobjects. For instance, and this happens quite often when I’m in a clothes shop I bump into shop dummies. Well, where else is it going to happen? Actually, I’d like to see shop dummies in random places, like a town centre bus stop, at a pub urinals, or on the back benches of the House of Lords on Today in Parliament on TV (although it might be difficult to tell the dummy from the members). Anyway, back to the shop dummy, and I don’t mean the bubble-gum blowing Saturday girl, I’m talking manikin doll dressed in the latest fashion. Well, I say latest fashion. I’m over 50 so I’m more an M&S man than River Island, so latest fashion might be stretching it a bit, much like the waistband on the trousers I need to buythese days. Thing is, to me, it’s a body wearing clothes and my apology reaction is so ingrained that it kicks in before my brain registers that it’s too solid to be a person. Yup, I have apologised to manikins several times.
Still, it’s better than the opposite that has happened too often, although once is too often. I have felt clothes on what I thought was a store manikin. It didn’t help matters when I told the woman whose breast pocket I was checking out that I thought she was a dummy. I’ve never been escorted out of a store with a threat of police before.
What I should do is to re-train myself not to say sorry at the drop of a hat or go live in France for a year or two to unlearn the English way. I’m not sure there is even a proper French translation of the word ‘sorry’. The word is supposed to be ‘Pardon’, but we all know that really means ‘What?’, perhaps short for ‘What the f….?’. Now that seems more appropriate when someone bumps into me. From now on, instead of ‘sorry’ I’m going to say “pardon” and, in my head, I’ll be translating that of the person who’s sensitivity I have rubbed up the wrong way, “What the fuck!”; of the person I collide with on a public street who is most likely not another blind person, “What the fuck?”; and of the person who’s tit I’ve inadvertently felt in M&S, “What’s your telephone number?”