Us Brits love to moan. We get a bigger kick out of it than watering our garden during a hose pipe ban, and we’re better at it than even our ability to wallpaper; a bold statement I know. I am not immune to this bug. I can roll my eyes at a perfectly reasonable request to do anything like the next person. In fact my default negotiating position when being asked to do something is say no, and then go from there. I start with a feeling of generalised resentment and work up to happy acceptance and a milder, more ambivalent contentment during the execution itself. It’s part of my overall Britishness, my “oh, I don’t know if I’d do it like that, really, that can’t be right “, and the more laid back Welshness of “does anyone really care about that? Let’s not bother, it’ll be fine as it is.” I can find fault in almost anything, and this is why I’m often asked to review, to proof read, to be a sounding board. My baseline is always to ask “is there a better way of doing this?”, although very often I come down on the side of “actually that’s really good, I like it, that’s the best way.” I’m in a perpetual state of being the devil’s advocate. But I am not alone in this, and I’m convinced that this is partially why us Brits like to moan so much. At the worst, its cynicism, at its best its a desire for things to be the best they can be, to ensure fairness, to do the right thing. Somewhere in the middle, is the need to do the least amount required to achieve a generally acceptable result.
I moan… a lot, and the majority of this has been directed at public transport in recent weeks. For those who follow me on Twitter, you will be familiar with my ongoing issues on getting anywhere via rail. It doesn’t matter how early I arrive, or leave to catch a train, the gods of public transport will intervene and a two hour journey will end up taking five, often leaving me a quivering wreck somewhere in London, feeling lost and sobbing into my mobile and swearing at pedestrians, or missing out on something which I’ve prepared for days for, like important meetings.. or getting a lunch break. These are reasonable things, in my opinion, to moan about, although I suspect that we Brits let these things get to us more than other people. If we don’t complain, constructively, about poor service then we’ll never get things done or make things better. It’s a powerful thing.
But I also think there’s a marvellous commeraderie in grumbling, which cannot be overstated. If you ever want to bring a group of people together, to build metaphorical bridges and shared understanding, then get them in a room and give them something which they can all happily moan about. It will do just the trick. People will rally together as long as they can basically all agree that something else is affecting them all quite badly and they’d all quite like to stop that happening, thank you very much (although this isn’t far off from what Hitler did and I think we can all agree that this was a very, very, bad thing.)
For example, on one of my recent distasterous journeys, I found myself spending more than £50 changing my rail ticket as the underground service had been terminated en route, and I had to find alternative transport to the rail station, missing my train in the process. My ticket included both underground rail and traditional, “British Rail”. Not only did I have to fork out a tenner for a taxi to get to the train station , I had to pay again to change my train ticket to get on the next available train. A fellow passenger, a stranger who I had got chatting to at the queue for the ticket office, who was in exactly the same position as me, approached me on the dash to the train. She asked if I’d been charged an excess fare to change my ticket to get a later train, as she had not because our delay was due to a London transport.I had no time to complain to the teller, but I was naturally hacked off at the extra money I’d been charged. What was wonderful, however, was this woman was more incensed than me. She was completely indignant by the injustice of it and insisted that I should complain. How terribly British! There was no “I’m alright Jack” mentality (another national trait which occassionally rears its head, sadly), but more a sense of “It’s just not cricket!”. In that fleeting, sweaty dash to the train, I felt a remarkable sense of pride and sisterhood.
At it’s best, moaning gets us Brits into action. We write to our MPS and officials, we join unions, we march, we sign petitions, we come together to declare our unhappiness and civic duty ; we form committees which make our villages beautiful, protect our countryside, create charities and organise fundraisers. Hell, I strongly suspect that our bid for the Olympics was largely fuelled by a) a deep seated belief that we would do it better than other people, ie ” I wouldn’t do it like that” , and b) the desire to organise a nice committee where we can all get together and draw up some lists over some lovely, pink wafer biscuits.For us Brits, moaning is the precursor to getting things done, and while it is sometimes misplaced, if that creates a springboard for change, bring it on!