Maundering On

There is a character in the comedy series Derry Girls called Uncle Colm who, as they might say in Derry, is wild fond of the sound of his own voice.  You see, Uncle Colm maunders on.  He rattles away, talking in that aimless, vague, drifting manner that begets a maunderer.  Not that Uncle Colm is pompous, in fact, I rather imagine he doesn’t think he is any better than the next man and, as a result, viewers are fond of him, I certainly am.  I enjoy it when he shows up in a scene with his flat-to-the-head blue-grey hair and his equally flat Ulster accent and proceeds to flaunt his ability to examine an unlikely subject from every possible angle, exhaust it, then flog it to death with virtuoso maundering.  His is a masterclass: no need to stop for breath; keep your delivery slow and even paced (like the steady plodder in middle of a pack of marathon runners who knows they’re not going to break any records but nor will they fall by the wayside); and keep talking.  Maundering: a harmless, uncensored, thinking out loud with no end point.  It’s a lovely word to say, much better than ‘droning’, enjoining as it does ‘wander’ and ‘meander’ into a most pleasing onomatopoeic roll.  It’s a gentle word too, not quite as accusatory or hurtful as droning.  It has the gentle touch of the rambling reciter, of the nomadic narration about it.  To maunder on effectively, you must first have scant plan as to what it is you wish to speak about, and your listener must be entirely secondary to your narrative.  Feedback, interjection and comment – the maunderer requires none of them.  Occasionally, as you maunder, you may wish to check if your audience is still present – for example, if the telephone is your chosen means of maundering then an occasional ‘uh-hu’ or ‘mm’ at the other end of the line will suffice.

I write with assurance on the subject as I confess an ability to maunder with the best of them.  Show me one person who doesn’t have a wee dose of Uncle Colm in them and I won’t believe you.  Some of my close relatives and best friends are maunderers, providing white noise for me to do the ironing to as I place them on speaker and ponder how I’m going to fill the hole in a particular plot line for the latest story I am writing.  We all do it, whether it’s a stream of consciousness on boiled sweets (reference to Uncle Colm), a blow by blow account of my coughing fits through the night in fifteen-minute increments (fascinating), or some, ostensibly intelligent, philosophical point that you just can’t stop talking about.  I have various means of maundering. I write long emails in which, if I have time, I maunder, and I maunder in my blogs (case in point) – but writing is not the best maundering medium, far from it–phone or face to face: that’s the way to go.

The key to maundering on is to feel no pressure to be interesting, you do not have to be correct in what you say, and you certainly don’t have to be entertaining.  Have no illusion that anyone is hanging on your every word, yet (here’s the silver lining) know that, if you maunder on for long enough, you will eventually come up with something that may even surprise you.  One of these days a gold nugget will turn up as you pan through your rubble of thoughts put to words.  Heed me: don’t let your inner-maunderer be too silent, too cautious, if you gag the temptation to maunder for fear of sounding boring, why, just think of all those missed opportunities of eventually, inadvertently saying something passingly interesting!  Don’t worry if you meet with the tell-tale signs of your companion having not spoken for half an hour, of their eyes having glazed over, or their yawns – it could be they didn’t sleep well last night.

Also, bear in mind that we connect to what we hear in different ways.  Whilst one person might hear masterful maundering, someone else might be hooked and taking notes.  The maunderer can be anyone – in fact (am I being unfair?) there could be a case built that one is more likely to maunder the more education one has received.  I have a strong suspicion that Walt Whitman was having a go at maunderers when he wrote his famous poem about the astronomer’s lectures: all those charts and diagrams – it sounds a lot like maundering to me.  And remember, there is a special place in heaven for those who listen (or at least pretend to listen) to us maunderers.

(Postscript: It is unusual for me to have consulted on a blog.  On this occasion I must confess to having done so.  During the writing of it, I took a call from CM –initials changed to protect identity, henceforth known, in a complimentary way, as Chief Maunderer, whom I thank for his most excellent input.)

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

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