My son Jeremy is working for us as an intern.  I asked him for a few anecdotes about routine conversations.  Here’s what he gave me in response to my brief….


“Ah mate, have you seen *insert film you haven’t seen here*?”

“I haven’t actually, no, is it good?”

“Yeah there’s this really fun bit where the main guy’s talking to his friend who’s his girlfriend’s brother and also his colleague, and basically earlier, like at this point in the film you don’t realise they work with each other and yeah so they’re at this bar thing and they’re talking about work and one of them, not the main guy the other one, well they’re kind of both main guys but not the main main guy, yeah so they’re talking about work and he’s like ‘ah man who’s the guy who laughs really loudly’ and it turns out it was the main main guy and his reaction is just the funniest thing ever…”

E.B. White, the late New Yorker writer put it perfectly. “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” I really feel like this should be broadly accepted as the rule when it comes to pitching or selling the idea of any film or series. The likelihood of finding any cinematic anecdote remotely engaging, interesting or funny is slim. Recommendations are appreciated, but nothing puts people off the idea of watching something more than having an unfunny or uninteresting snippet of it laboriously explained.

I put off Breaking Bad for 2 years because my friend wouldn’t shut up about it. I’m putting off Game of Thrones for similar reasons. I concede that I was wrong to delay on the former, and I accept that the case is probably the same for the latter. Regardless, overselling is usually counterproductive and quite annoying.


Football’s not really my thing, and when I’m sat in the barber’s chair, that becomes a real issue. After a typically awkward description of how I would like my hair (essentially the same as when I walked into the building, only less), my mind totally blanks on what I would or should normally say to a stranger that is going to be touching my head for the next 10 or so minutes.

Blank stares at my reflection replace the desired unforced chat about the most widely loved sport in English culture; it’s pretty tricky telling someone you don’t care at all about something they love. Oh wow, Ramos wants to leave Madrid for Manchester? Well, what a bloody fool.

I’m left with the weather, the summer, today’s news, and the back of my head as topics of conversation, and as a result I hate getting my haircut.

Barbers should account for people that don’t care about football.

People shouldn’t care about football.


I worked for 9 full-time months at a ‘local’, or small, version of a big supermarket. Retail and I didn’t naturally agree with each other and I had to look quite closely to find my fun. Enjoyment ultimately did come in the form of the discovery that being a faceless supermarket employee gave you quite a unique opportunity in influencing, or just involving yourself in a strangers’ day.

During my training period I was effectively told that my job was essentially to be a robotic extension of the shop, ‘Hi how are you?’, ‘Would you like a bag?’ and ‘Your change and receipt’ is about the extent of your necessary and corporately appropriate vocab, which made going against that quite interesting. It turns out customers get quite startled when confronted with a question such as: ‘would you like a bag, or do you care about the environment?’

I found it very enjoyable when I could noticeably surprise the customer with something human. Cocky minors trying to buy booze would react interestingly when told that the reason I knew that their fake ID was unauthentic, is because I had one of the very same variety only 2 years ago.

Nice International Driving Permit, pal, where’d you get that?


I feel awkward in taxis because I use them for totally luxurious purposes. My legs work perfectly well, I’m rarely late for anything important and I just feel a bit silly paying someone to chauffeur me around for any reason other than perhaps a trip to the airport. It feels silly and unnatural to me, and that awkwardness is probably why I can’t come up much conversation with drivers beyond their night’s work. How many times do you reckon a taxi driver gets asked in their lifetime whether or not they’ve been busy that evening? Ubergate has opened some conversational opportunities, but it’s hard to strike conversation that can last 5 minutes beyond that.

I feel like there should be a standardised system regarding questions over whether to sit in the front or back, and whether or not chitchat is worth pursuing.

Sometimes I fake super-important phone-calls.


I’ve been given quite a nice shortcut in cold-call detection when I’m living at home.  I was given my mum’s surname. Formally, I am Mr. Overton. My dad is Mr. Thompson.

Cold caller: ‘Hi is that Mr. Overton?’

Me: ‘It is’

Cold caller: ‘Hi I’m just calling to ask you about your broadband provider’

Me: ‘Ok’

Cold caller: ‘Can I ask how much you’re currently paying?

Me: ‘You can’

Cold caller: ‘…so how much do you pay?’

Me: ‘I don’t actually pay anything’

Cold caller: ‘You don’t pay anything?’

Me: ‘That’s right’

Cold caller: ‘Do you have broadband?’

Me: ‘I do’

Cold caller: ‘So what do you pay each month?’

Me: ‘I don’t pay anything’

Cold caller: ‘How does that work?’

This usually goes on until they deduce that I am not the home-owner or bill-payer, or until I get bored or distracted and hang up. I usually quite enjoy the 21-questions set up, answering every question honestly until they work out that I have no administrative role within the household.

It’s obvious in the first few words that they don’t know anything about who lives at the house other than a name. They use that name so that the call feels personal and the caller seems knowledgeable, providing you with a sense of trust towards the stranger on the other end of the line, ultimately increasing the likelihood of a sale.

I suppose it’s a fair idea in principle; I think I just get a bit offended by how quickly they lose interest.


I have mixed feelings about the varying qualities of customer service.

Why do, or why should people pretend to enjoy a job they clearly hate? I have every sympathy for train ticket inspectors. I may have had arguments with some in the past, but when it comes down to it, I don’t doubt that I would become quite arsey if I had to walk up and down a moving train all day either ripping tickets or explaining the need for them.

Even one company frequently described as the king of customer service makes me feel a bit weird. ‘Oh I’m terribly sorry to hear that, don’t worry at all I’ll get that all taken care of for you’ sound like words you’d hear in relation to a serious injury, not a broken toaster. I guess I appreciate the effort.


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