12 JUNE 1993, Page 60


Polite conversation

Christopher Howse

IN COMPETITION NO. 1782 you were asked to contrive a conversation composed of clichés.

After reading your accomplished entries I hardly dare put pen to paper — clichés lurk everywhere. Of course the progenitor of this game was Jonathan Swift in his A Complete Collection of Genteel and Inge- nious Conversation, According to the Most Polite Mode and Method Now Used at Court, and in the Best Companies of England.

Your favourite settings for cliched con- versation were in pubs, at chance meetings or during the discussion of football and cricket. I'm not sure that all the clichés passed muster. 'Get stuffed!' hardly makes it, though I noticed in the recent Methuen dictionary of clichés that 'bugger off was included.

In a close-run week some were unlucky not to get in. Adrian Vale composed a delightfully annoying television arts prog- ramme; A. Asche put his conversation in verse, which somehow took away the quality of cliché. Monica G. Ribon devised a conversation between the Prime Minister and his former Chancellor beginning, 'Ns' is going to hurt me far more than it hurts you.' I hope the winners printed below (W° receive £20 each) will be over the noon, none more than W. J. Webster, who gets the bonus bottle of Drummond's Pure Malt Scotch whisky.

A: I think we should talk.

B: What is there left to talk about?

A: It's easy for you to say that.

B: What's that supposed to mean? A: I wouldn't expect you to understand. It's like speaking to a brick wall. B: You're a fine one to talk!

• A: It costs nothing to say you're sorry. B: That says it all!

A: Why do you try to twist everything I say?

B: I knew you'd say that.

A: There's a word for people like you. B: I speak as I find.

A: Isn't that what it's all about? You never think before you speak. B: Look who's talking!

A: I just don't think we speak the same language anymore. (W. J. Webster)

`How's life treating you?'

'Not very often! Mind you, I mustn't grumble. It's all swings and roundabouts. And don't let anyone tell you different.'

'You can say that again. But to him that hath, eh? Notice how they're always moving the goalposts, when all we want is a level playing field?'

'There's no arguing with that. But you know what gets my goat? It's being in a no-win situation.'

`Well, that's a chicken-and-egg argument. Personally, in my opinion, I blame society. To a certain extent. Still, we ought to condemn more and understand less.'

`That's it in a nutshell. But what will be, will be.'

'Oh, yes. It'll all be the same in a hundred years. Say what you like, we're all human.' 'Well, got to rush. Nice talking.'

'Likewise. Very much so. Say hello to your better half for me.'

'Don't do anything I wouldn't do. Cheery- bye,' (Basil Ransome-Davies) She looked as pretty as a picture, in all her summer finery.

'I know that score,' she said. 'I wasn't born yesterday.'

'You'll live to regret this. Just don't come crying to me!' 'I've got to make up my own mind,' she said. 'You make me see red.'

'You do look as red as a beetroot,' she said, cool as a cucumber, which did nothing to restore my equilibrium. And you're as stubborn as a mule,' I said, 'just like your mother.' 'It's my decision,' she said. She stood her ground. 'I can see I'm getting nowhere. Why don't you listen to reason?' I said.

'You're always telling me I've got to think for myself.' 'That's all very well,' I said. 'There's not a cloud in the sky at this moment in time. But what happens if the heavens open? Tell me that then. What have you got against an umbrella?' (Edith Foulis) Well, in the final analysis it stands to reason: if you don't like the heat, stay out of the kitchen, if you follow my drift . . . 'Light at the end of the tunnel'? 'Green shoots of recovery'? No way! At this point in time, the cutting edge can't see the wood for the trees: these spin-doctors ride roughshod head and shoulders above us grass- roots rank-and-file . . . I'll make no bones about it, they feather their nests with filthy lucre and that's my pet hate in this day and age, as I live and breathe. As the land parameter lies, we're in a no-win situation; at the end of the day there's neither rhyme nor reason; it makes grown men weep and no word of a lie. What's needed now as such, per se, is a Short, Sharp Shock.

Talking of which, a touch more off the top, Sir? . . . No? . . . (Mike Morrison)

No. 1785: Yoof

Recently Auberon Waugh quoted a tanta- lising anti-youth couplet: 'It's not their fault they do not know/ The birdsong from the radio.' (Where does it come from?) You are invited to continue, in a similarly patronising strain, for a further 14 lines. Entries to 'Competition No. 1785, by 25 June.