I like to consider myself liberal. I may often watch how other people operate, and go, ‘Oh. How does that work? I don’t get it.’ I try not to interfere.
I am occasionally asked by someone whose world I do not understand to help them in some way. To do something for them in their world. That’s fine if it’s my friends asking me. I may not grasp or approve of the significance, but generally I’ll go along with things. I try not to be unreasonable.
I used to work for a man who was a notorious philanderer. I knew he was shagging his secretary. It put me in an invidious position, because he was not only my boss but also a friend and confidante. It was doubly difficult because I liked his wife a great deal, and she would, at times of mild inebriation, call me his ‘blue eyed boy.’ I was good at my job, and he told his wife how good I was. Nice, eh?
One day, he came up to me. He was conspiratorial.
‘Listen. I’m off playing the scallywag tonight. If G (his wife) calls you (as she often did if she couldn’t get hold of him,) you and I were having a working dinner, OK?’
What was I supposed to do? I liked him, though disapproved of his way of operation, and I liked his wife. How could I possibly respond?
‘No. I can’t do that. But if we go out for a few drinks together first, I’ll tell her that we went out for a few drinks. What you do after that is your own business. But I won’t lie for you.’
An unreasonable request, but I turned it into something I could live with, something more reasonable. The truth, and nothing but the truth. Just not the whole truth. I know, I was weak.
On the other hand I do respond badly to unreasonable requests from people I do not know. Another example. I was in a place that, while not exactly private, wasn’t fully public. It was the carpark of a hotel. Although in those days it was still legal to smoke in public places, but in deference to the non-smokers in my group, I’d sneaked out for a crafty snout. There was a man out there talking on one of those mobile phones that were the size of a house brick. He was clearly having a row.
‘Listen! You’re my girlfriend, right? So what you do, it affects me, right? Don’t say it doesn’t, cos it f****** does! Right?’
At this point he noticed me.
‘Oi! You! I’m having a private f***** conversation here! F*** off somewhere else, yeah?’
‘What? This is a f****** private conversation!’
‘Then why don’t you go somewhere you can carry it on in private?’
I was angry, and I felt fairly brave. There were enough people in transit to make it OK, and there were CCTV cameras all over the shop. And I felt put upon just as strongly as I felt anger, and this makes me stubborn.
‘Oi! I just toldja ta f*** off din’t I?’
‘Then F*** OFF!’
Was I being unreasonable? Or was he? I know where my money lies.