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      Simon Parke with his latest book, The Indecent Death of a Madam   Cover of Conversations with Leo Tolstoy   Cover of Pippa's Progress

Not Mary Poppins

Posted by Simon Parke, 23 September 2019, 12.11pm

I’m working in a hospital.

And the lovely canteen has a new notice: ‘This canteen is now self-clearing.’

An image of Mary Poppins dances through my mind with dirty plates and coffee cups leaping joyously from the tables and flying to a nearby dishwasher, where they nestle excitedly in anticipation of a good clean.

But, on reflection, I think what they’re really telling me is to clear up after myself – because no one else will.

So why don’t they say that?

The thing is, they don’t want to say that because they feel they might upset me – so they drift into avoidant non-speak.

Some of us find it hard to say what we want, for fear of offence, for fear we’re not allowed to want.

So while we still want it, we don’t quite say it. We hide behind avoidant language, or manipulate surreptitiously to get our way.

We’ll frustrate both others and ourselves in this frightened dance.

It’s OK to want something, so simply say it. What’s to lose?

No one, for a minute, believes the canteen is now self-clearing…

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