There used to be a column, perhaps in the Reader’s Digest – it was a very Readers-digestive sort of thing – about inventions people wished ‘they’ would invent. But who is ‘they’? I guess attitudes have changed somewhat since those dark days, but the idea was that there was a cohort of people ‘up there’ whose job it was to invent things while we waited down below to receive them. So the plaintive ‘why don’t they…? was the lament of the invented-for awaiting the whim of the almighty inventor.
Nowadays I suspect we’re a little more democratic in our thinking. I hope so, anyway – I hope most of us would say ‘why don’t we?’ rather than ‘why don’t they?’ After all inventors are not blue-sky thinkers who sit on a stool all day coming up with ideas, they are – we are – people with problems that need solutions. This is where the internet really comes into its own. I have a problem; I share it with the hive mind, and someone comes up with a solution. Actually what happens is a hundred people come up with a hundred different solutions, but still. We work; we solve it together. Sometimes.
Likewise the proliferation of repair cafes, now sadly stalled by the pandemic. These are also very democratic places where repairers share their skills and show you what to do so that you learn to repair things yourself. This is an excellent initiative; it’s also how things used to be when I was growing up. It’s true that these tasks were highly gendered – I know how to repair almost any garment but not how to fix a car (not that anyone can fix modern cars, not without a computer hook-up) – but the principle was the same. Problems have solutions and we find them.
Douglas Adams had one of the most inventive minds ever. In The Meaning of Liff, he and John Lloyd came up with a whole series of linguistic solutions; words for things that existed but as yet had no definitions. Like Grimbister, a load of cars all travelling carefully at the same speed because one of them is a police car, and Oshkosh, the sound of fake modesty.
So let’s not be Readers-digesty, let’s be Bob the Buildery and say whenever we have a problem: ‘Can we fix it? Yes we can?’
And I’d completely forgotten the whole point of this post, which is: why don’t some people talk to you when you speak to them? Yesterday we were at Sainsbury’s and needing a trolley. I saw a woman about to put one back, so I approached her and said ‘Do you want to – ?’ meaning did she want to give me the trolley and I’d give her my pound. She ignored me, so I tried again: nothing. After a third time when she’d put her trolley back I muttered, mostly to myself: ‘No, apparently not.’ This seemed to galvanise her and she said self-righteously ‘No, I do NOT want to exchange my token, thank you!’ and marched off. But why not just say? Some people just don’t acknowledge you when you speak – but why don’t they?