We use the expression in Ireland, “giving out” – I’m not sure how far it travels. It can mean to tell someone off, to complain, fault-find, or to indulge enthusiastically in expressing one’s dissatisfaction with all and sundry. I have a good friend upon whom I rely for our weekly telephone dose of mutual giving out. The pair of us whack a ball of belligerence back and forth down the line with the vigour of an epic rally at Wimbledon: smash, lob, slice, spin. We give out about anything and everything; nothing’s too big, nothing’s too small. The weather is a staple. Disappointing apples (which you might think would be a seasonal topic of conversation, it isn’t) is one of my favourites, along with cafés that serve lukewarm latte and overpriced carrot and coriander soup. People always feature. Kids who say ‘my bad’ when they almost run you over when riding their bikes on the pavement, men who spit, cars that tailgate, joggers who run really close up to your shoulder whilst breathing heavily (that’s a new one for 2020), and world leaders who… well don’t even get me started on that one! The list of things to give out about is endless, it is truly infinite, but the trick to indulging in it, is containment. Kettle yourself, keep it to a small number – yourself and one other person if possible – choose that partner carefully, give yourselves a timeslot, know you’re doing it, laugh at yourselves, and enjoy the deep satisfaction to be had from a sustained whinge whilst always remembering the utter futility of this glorious sniping. My friend and I, we know it gets us nowhere, we know our grumbling changes nothing, but our scheduled downloads for giving out about the state of the world make us feel so much better.
I am an amateur, though, and I want to stay that way. Heaven forbid I should turn into one of those people who have made ‘giving out’ their life’s mission; those for whom it has become a specialised subject, perhaps even an occupation. And I mean occupation. Take radio presenters as an example: there are those of a certain ilk – and they exist the world over – who have made it their mission not to educate, inform or entertain, but to excite (even incite) others to join them in a clamorous crescendo, in a strident cacophony, in a vociferous bawl of giving out. Some social media platforms seem to be built around it. Gone (or at least in terminal decline) are the days of the newspaper letters page, when you and I, ‘Dear Reader’, had to sit down and deliberate upon what we were going to formulate, argue, and cogently present to ‘Dear Editor’. It would have been a thought-out, reflective piece, paragraphs that would then cross the desk of a seasoned journalist before being published; proofed and checked in order to weed out nonsensical rants, but, nonetheless, these letters pages would print varied and opposing views, all of them interesting, thought-provoking, considered. Nowadays, we just tighten our jaw and bark a knee-jerk reaction to something that irritates, type something inane (possibly offensive) into the phone or computer, press send and, hey presto, you’ve joined the ranks of giving out.
But, to be fair, perhaps giving out, even in an undisciplined way, is better than giving in. I will admit that it shows fire in the belly, that people care, that we can still fight for a cause, hold an opinion, stand up to wrongdoing. And yes, you’ve spotted it, I am essentially giving out about those who give out. I’m not saying don’t do it – please do! It’s cheap, it’s free, it’s fun, it’s probably essential for your mental health. But do remember to take a step back and watch yourself, have a laugh, don’t take it too seriously. Beware of joining that Greek chorus constantly commentating on the dramatic action. Best of all, keep it to one person – as Chris Tarrant used to say, phone a friend.