Captain’s Log. Star date 12th October 2012. First entry. Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of Captain Thunder. His mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before…
Bumpy but successful landing in the land of the Cling-Ons. A rude but noble-hearted people. I have now inhabited this Cling-On town of Cuadrilla for close to two months, and I have collected some fascinating data.
Things I had come to take for granted in the Land of Freedom and Opportunity (which I will refer to alternately as “Land of Freedom” and “Land of Opportunity”) are almost completely absent in this region. Prevailing norms of courtesy and pragmatism in the Land of Opportunity do not seem to hold in this rough yet noble country of the Cling-Ons.
Three examples: first, Freedom Lovers normally smile at you even if you are a complete stranger, on the most minimal pretext. You walk into a coffee shop and order something, and the waitress will at least attempt to smile at you, even if she’s having a bad day. You give the sign of peace to someone at Mass, and generally they will smile at you as a matter of course. Cling-Ons, at least of the Cuadrilla variety, rarely smile at strangers, or smile only when seriously provoked. I have had the experience of walking past complete strangers with a permanent frown on their face. At first I took it personally but gradually began to realize that it was nothing personal.
Second, Freedom Lovers are indomitable pragmatists, and if they have the choice to make more money or less money, they consider the more profitable choice a “no-brainer.” Here, I have encountered or heard of many cases of grossly unprofitable behaviour. For example, almost all business establishments close from 2 to 4 for a nice long lunch; and the entire city of Cuadrilla practically shuts down for much of the summer. One clothes retailer persuaded a female customer not to buy a skirt because the one she had on was perfectly fine.
But one of my favourite examples is the Swedish company, IKEA. One might think that they, of all people would refuse to assimilate to this culture of contempt for profit. But the surrounding culture must be so powerful that even the Swedes have succumbed to it. I looked up the nearest Ikea, about a hundred miles away, and happily discovered that they deliver furniture to Cuadrilla. So I called them up to order a mattress. I confirmed with them that they do deliver to Cuadrilla, but when I tried to place an order, they said I would have to come in person to the store to place the order. So I asked if they expected me to make a two hour bus journey to their store to arrange for them to ship the mattress back to my home in Cuadrilla. They said yes. I do not think this could happen in the Land of Opportunity.
Finally, norms of courtesy: in the Land of Opportunity, people not only smile at strangers; they will step aside to create room for a stranger on their Sidewalks (what we in Ireland call Footpaths). I have had the experience, corroborated by numerous acquaintances, that people here, even on a wide footpath, stubbornly hold their course as if their life depended on it. If you are insufficiently assertive, you might very well be run off the path. I have a sneaking suspicion that female pedestrians are a little more stubborn in this respect, but thus far have insufficient data to prove this. At first I tended to take this monopolistic behaviour personally, but as I now see that it is practically the norm here, somehow I have less cause for offense. I have resorted to several different strategies for acquiring space on the footpaths, and the most successful has been to travel by bicycle: I have found that when I am careering toward someone on my bicyle, I have a noticeable strategic advantage.
Lest you think this experience an anomaly, I will add one more example from a different situation – something that I have been told by a more experienced visitor to this region, is not uncommon. I was standing around in a bar, talking to a friend, and generally minding my own business, when I suddenly felt myself being physically lifted up and whooshed aside. It all happened so quickly that I had no time to process what was happening. Afterward, I realized it was the waiter who needed to get through. Admittedly, he did excuse himself loudly before removing me from his path. But that did not make the experience any less bracing. It later occurred to me that if a stranger, waiter or no waiter, pushed someone out of the way in a restaurant in the Land of Freedom, it would be considered a very serious discourtesy, and might even be taken by some Freedom Lovers as a form of assault.
But as I said at the beginning, though the Cling-Ons are a rude people, they are also have a very noble heart. And I will explain what I mean by this in the next instalment.