When we were in Kerry during the summer, my mother-in-law asked me whether I was particularly fond of 1960s songs as I seemed to know a lot of them. I found myself mulling on this and reflected that I knew far more songs from the 1960s than from the last 10 years. I asked Mr. Waffle to hum one hit song from the last year and he couldn’t do it. I knew precisely one song, something about God by pink and I couldn’t hum it either. We are without it.
Furthermore, I am getting quite testy about this business of complete strangers addressing each other and, more particularly, me by their or my first names. In a hotel I stayed in for work, the 60 year old man on reception had a label with “John” on his chest. Not “John Bloggs” just “John”. Am I really supposed to call this older gentleman “John”?
I have had some exposure to hospitals recently through my parents whom the doctors and nurses treating my father felt completely free to address by their first names whether they knew them or not. In a context when you or your spouse is ill, poked, pulled and cut open, I can’t help feeling that it would be nice to have some vestiges of dignity retained. Neither of my parents complained, but my mother did mention it and I wondered who decreed that all patients should be addressed by their first names. In Belgium, I was “Madame Gaufre” to everyone when I was in hospital. Maybe it’s because they have “tu” and “vous” in French and this encourages formality. Whatever the reason, I like it. You can always tell people to be a little less formal but it’s much harder to ask people to be more formal. I remember when a friend of my parents’ was very ill (possibly dying) in hospital, he was addressed by his first name. As it happened, he was always known by his middle name, so that wasn’t even his name, really, if you see what I mean, and I, who had known him all my life, only every addressed him as Professor C. A little courtesy might be welcome.
I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I got an email from an academic beginning “Dear Anne (if I may)”. Yes, you may, how nice to be asked. When I started my working life, which is not that long ago, 1990, in fact (if this was before you were born, please don’t comment), it was quite standard to address the senior partners in the office as Mr. (there were no senior women, so the question of Ms, Mrs or Miss did not arise – ah, progress, not all bad then), though my own boss did get his secretary to tell me to stop calling him Mr. because it made him feel very old.
As a child, I addressed grown-ups as Mr. or Mrs. or, good friends of my parents as aunty or uncle. This latter, I concede, carried its own difficulties. As a sullen adolescent, I wasn’t going to call unrelated people “uncle” or “aunty”, so I ended up having to address them as “you” or point. I don’t, however, like to see the Princess imperiously addressing my friends by their first names and telling them to do things. Imperious is her usual mode of interaction and, it might, I suppose be softened, if she were using some form of title. I am not entirely sure how to deal with this, but perhaps inspiration will come.
Oh, and also, the policemen appear to be getting younger.