Leslie Geddes-Brown finds harsh, stentorian language entirely unacceptable – no matter who it comes from.
A card is pushed through the letterbox. I recognise it instantly. It looks as if it had been kept in a postman’s trouser pocket for a year or so. Crumpled, dirty and with incomprehensible handwriting, it tells me a parcel has been taken back to the sorting office because it won’t fit through my letterbox. Will I please collect it?
This is not something I look forward to. I know I shall, at best, end up depressed; at worst, in a rage. The instant I walk towards the smeared glass guichet and its smeared card notice, I know nothing has changed. ‘Abuse of Staff Will Not be Tolerated,’ it yells in too many capital letters.
From this, I know that abuse of customer will be routine ‘Strike bell once only,’ a further belligerent scrap of cardboard adds, so I do. Whoever is on duty finishes his cup of tea and strolls out. ‘Yes?’ he says, looking at the ceiling. I hand over the crumpled card. ‘ID?’ he adds, hoping, I can tell, that I’ve forgotten it.
I haven’t and he shambles back behind the scenes for another 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.
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‘I can’t remember the wording exactly because I was so cross I threw it away.’
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?
It’s a matter of language – something the grand viziers at the palace, the grumpy postmen and the harassed pharmacists should all learn.
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 was 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 harassed pharmacists should all learn.