Stating the obvious: a thriving artPosted: August 3, 2011
I am endlessly entertained by people’s ability to state the staggeringly obvious.
Take today for example. I was at the RSPB’s Fairburn Ings nature reserve (brilliant place to visit with or without children, by the way) and saw a couple, probably in their 70s, stopping to look at a wooden sculpture of a frog. The woman walked over to the frog and studied it intently. She began to touch the frog – I wouldn’t say she stroked it but she was definitely getting a good sense of its texture. I could tell she was building up to a revelation that would amaze her husband; something insightful, perhaps based on years of nimble-fingered wood-turning, or a degree in fine arts. Pausing for a moment, she turned to him and said: ‘Frog.’
It reminded me of the almost ingeniously stupid sign I have seen when driving in thick fog. It’s one of those electronic signs that can be changed to give you useful information about your journey. One near my home has been used on occasions to warn of “fog” – very useful when you are driving through dense fog and are squinting to read the sign.
The weather is a never-ending source of obvious comments and inane small talk. My brother is a postman, surely one group of people who most frequently find themselves on the receiving end of torrents of such drivel. ‘Bit wet, isn’t it?’ people say to him, as he stands dripping wet on their doorstep. The post itself has great potential for obvious observations or questions. One favourite is ‘Is that for me?’ ‘No,’ my brother thinks. ‘I’m going to give you someone else’s post because it amuses me.’
Going back to the frog-reporting lady at Fairburn, I found myself wondering whether animals say obvious things to each other too. Does Mrs Woodpecker turn to Mr Woodpecker and say ‘Tree’? Does an otter turn to its nearest chum and say ‘River’? Do goldfish, with their legendarily short memories, say ‘It’s wet’ every seven seconds?
There is one thing that amuses me just as much as the obvious, though – the unobvious. The random. For instance, predictive text. Predictive text is the opposite of stating the obvious. It wracks its tiny digital brain to come up with something that is as far removed as possible from the word I am trying to type. In a recent text message to my wife, an otherwise harmless text nearly took on a much cheekier tone when ‘Toffee’ was inexplicably changed to ‘Todger’.
That’s why Family Fortunes has been such a hit for so many years. You just never know when a contestant will blurt out the most absurd and unexpected answer. I watched a repeat of the Les Dennis-era show on Challenge (look out for it on Freeview) last week and was delighted when both families turned out to be experts at such nonsensical blurting. One lady had to think of ‘something that gives you a headache’. ‘Sex!’ she cried. Much mirth ensued. My all-time favourite was the chap who was completely flumoxed by ‘A type of ache’. ‘Face!’ he said. His brother, faced with the same question, was even more befuddled. ‘Er, I don’t understand the question,’ he bumbled. ‘Er, fillet of fish!’ Brilliant.
I know, I’m being mean. People say daft things when they’re under pressure to come up with something quickly. People say obvious things when they can’t think of anything else to say. But let’s enjoy that awkwardness and revel in it. It’s something we’re all really good at.
STOP PRESS: Free bonus obviousness below.
My friend Nick, who’s works in a newsagent’s, has reported a strange trend, as follows:
Nick: Would you like a bag?
Customer: If you’ve got one.
Probably a fair assumption that a bag both exists and is available if it has been offered. Bless us – we’re a daft nation of polite bumbling types, aren’t we?