Wednesday 12 January 2005

The black humour of the resistance

There was an e-mail doing the rounds of the City last week that managed to add a 315 word rubric, in authentic Compliance Department gobbledegook, to the innocent greeting ‘Happy New Year’.

City offices are rightly renowned for their ability to create and disseminate black humour, with no topic deemed so sensitive as to be off limits. Diana, 9/11 and even the recent tsunami have all featured in my inbox.

Such behaviour flagrantly contravenes the employment codes of the US and Continental banks which dominate the City. Scarcely a week seems to go by without my investment banker friends being summoned from their desks for some sort of diversity training, arranged by HR departments fearful of yet more multi-million pound lawsuits.

One such group was actually commended by their HR supremo for their thoughtful and responsible follow-up to their latest course, until she worked out that their newly formed Sexual Harassment Awareness Group had a rather unfortunate acronym.

It struck me as an entirely reasonable way for them to express their feelings about a culture that deems it necessary to instruct adults that it is a good idea to behave decently and considerately.

There is an age-old City term for this: ‘stating the bleeding obvious’. And it has become a plague throughout the country in recent years. It is the thought process that gives us warning signs above hot taps, telling us that the water coming out of them will be, er, hot. Well, who’d have thought it?

Literally in my own back yard, in the very small patch of Northumberland I own, someone has recently fixed to the electricity poles lurid yellow signs, depicting a man on his back zapped by a back-to-front letter N, with the legend ‘Danger of death. Keep off.’ Those poles have been in place since mains electricity arrived 50 years ago, but it has taken until now for someone to think that I might take it into my head to climb up one to see what would happen.

I’m actually thinking of complaining because the figure on the sign is quite clearly a man (are only men deemed to be that stupid?), it’s fixed a good 6ft off the ground (reducing visibility to children and dwarves, sorry persons of restricted growth), and it’s only in English (what happened to Braille and all the approved ethnic minority languages?)

These signs appeared over Christmas, so were clearly someone’s idea of a top priority. They have annoyed me almost as much as the notice now appearing in many cemeteries, advising visitors that the gravestones aren’t being vandalised by mindless idiots. No, they’re being deliberately toppled by the local council in case they fall on a passing kiddie.

This may all seem a far cry from political correctness in the City. But all are facets of our ever-increasing subjugation to a culture of nannying, and to European diktats that seek to regulate our thoughts and actions even to the level of telling us when and for how long we should emote for the tsunami victims.

In this climate, maybe black humour is both our best release and our most effective resistance movement.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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