Given that my poor teeth are only held together with gobs of amalgam, I really should not, ever, gnash them. However, sometimes gnashing (and possibly wailing) is the only proper response to extreme provocation. Take last Friday for example.
Several vast mugs of tea and another tablet later, confident of a pain-free day thanks to modern pharmaceuticals, I drove to the Positive Aging Expo at the Headingly Centre in Richmond. Welcomed at the entrance by the cheerful strains of an electronic organ, I joined the throng which ambulated, Zimmered or were wheeled along the aisles of products and services on display. Only God knows what combination and quantity of pharmaceuticals there were circulating in our collective veins but we were all terribly upbeat in spite of the fact that everything on display - with the possible exception of the “Miracle Chopping Board” and the model train, screams ill health, infirmity and decline.
In my experience we older people are like contestants on Mastermind: we each have our own special subject which can be anything from shingles and cataracts, to osteoporosis and prostate cancer or the replacement of hips, knees and heart valves. In spite of failing memories we are able to give lengthy perorations on drug regimes, alternative therapies and the frightening opportunities afforded by the internet for self-diagnosis. For this reason, a huddle of fellow-suffers is a reassuring source of information, encouragement and understanding when the rest of the world is busy running marathons or scaling Mt Everest.
That’s what the Expo felt like - unpretentious, friendly, and unafraid to stare human vulnerability in the face. Whether one was merely, like Lytton Strachey, a martyr to the piles, or suffering greater health challenges, the Expo offered a splint, a therapy, prophylaxis or a sympathetic ear. And there was plenty of helpful information about activities to keep one as sprightly as possible, for as long as possible too, including croquet, bowls, tai chi, model-building, bridge, table tennis, cycling, walking, woodwork, and bus tours - the latter guided, rather reassuringly I thought, by a gentlemen experienced in search and rescue and ambulance driving.
So why the wailing and gnashing of teeth? Well, while I was at the Expo I picked up a Heart Foundation brochure. It was nicely printed on a card which folded and unfolded in a charmingly origami-like way. It featured photos of a smiling nuclear family having healthy family fun together, heart-shaped motifs, and a diagrammatic overview of the Foundation’s strategies. So far so good - no obvious threat to the dentistry.
Then I made the mistake of actually reading the brochure. You know. The words. Those little thingamajigs you glue together to make sentences and which are generally expected to convey meaning?
Whoever assembled the words in the Foundation’s brochure (I hesitate to call it writing) hasn’t bothered with old-fashioned notions of grammar, clarity, and precision. Instead they’ve blundered about in a slurry of “Vision” (“Fulfilling lifetimes with healthy hearts”), “Objectives” (promoting “physical activity, including non-sedentary behaviour”) not to be confused with “Enabling Objectives” which involve “Brand Profile” and Sustainable Funding”.
Listed ungrammatically and nonsensically under the heading “Our Strategy” were “Credibility and gravitas”, “Conscious risk-taking” and “Drive online where possible”.
There followed an awful lot of “leverage”, “management opportunities” and of course “outcomes” achieved by being “credible, relevant, and visible”. Then there were “The Drivers of Our Success - Fulfil a lifetime is THE platform for what we do”. But, the brochure declared “We’re not done yet!”. They still had their “Values” to explain. “Our Values” are “REAL: Live it, breathe it”,“CONNECTED: Inside and Out” and “PUMPING: Passionate for Change”. And that’s the point when the molars went into action.
This combination of management jargon, redundancy, nonsense and the screamingly obvious would be hilarious if it wasn’t contained in the publication of a serious organisation with serious pretensions.
Except for the fact that he penned the comment in 1946 George Orwell might have been referring to this very brochure when he wrote that “The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose … [which]… consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse”.
The Inland Revenue Department had a stand at the Expo. Compared to the confusing opacity of the Heart Foundation’s brochure the IRD’s “Top Ten Facts on International Tax” was a miracle of clarity and brevity: no fancy fonts or flow charts; no illustrations; no branding; no vision; no mission statement - just a numbered list of clearly stated facts, printed in 11-point Comic Sans on white A4 photocopy paper.
And so the Expo and the IRD worked hand in hand to prove that nothing is as certain as death … and taxes.