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On ranting

If there’s one thing I just can’t abide, it’s ranters.

Not the C17th religious nonconformists. Folk who can’t shut up about things.

You know the type. The workplace philosophers; the shouters at the TV; people in whose eyes you see the glint of socialist dictatorship.

They come in every walk of life. Stupid boxers (*tautology klaxon*), old men in pubs, Daily Mail columnists, every comedian who ever hosted an awards night, back-bench Labour MPs, the current president (plus phone) of the United States, Basil F***ing Fawlty.

It’s the humourlessness that really does for them. The veering crazily from ‘point’ to ‘point’. “Do you know what I mean?” they’re always asking. Alas, we always do.

Of course, a lot of ranters are successful enough to get away with it.

Doctor Johnson, one suspects, was probably a dreadful ranter. John McEnroe, obviously. Jeremy Clarkson. Will Self. Naomi Campbell. Mel Gibson. Sir Alex Ferguson was given a knighthood for services to ranting. And then there’s Geoffrey Boycott.

For every Charlie Sheen, mind, there is a Michael Richards.

Still, famous people we can usually switch off. Everyday ranters, though – real live people, whom you might find yourself stuck in a lift with – well, they’re entirely unspeakable. A quite close friend of mine goes apoplectic if he sees a button out of place in military dramas. I’ve had to institute a swear-jar system.

It’s just not really British, is it? (“I’ll rant as well at thou,” quoth Hamlet. But he was from Denmark.) Our all-time-favourite ranting stories end in tumbleweed, embarrassment, and Downfall bunker parodies on YouTube.

Another friend’s somewhat brigadierial granddad once had a long and testy conversation with (e.g.) the British Rail Customer Services Hotline, concluding, “I mean, for God’s sake, man, this is Britain, not bloody Bangalore!?’ The plaintive and predictable reply: “No sir: this is Bangalore.”

As any Oldie worth his salt will vouch, life’s too short, one mustn’t grumble, and almost nothing’s that important, really. My father – curse him – has a good line when he thinks I’m getting exercised o’er trivia: “Is this going to form a chapter in your memoirs?” That tends to do the trick.

For The Oldie

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