A couple of weeks ago in his blog and in the Bath Chronicle, editor Sam Holliday asked a very pertinent question: Are you a Downton or a Spook?
Do you devote your Sunday evening TV viewing to the trials and tribulations of a family of English aristocrats as they tough it out through the First World War without mussing up their make-up; or do you settle down with a nice cup of cocoa and a spy-related plotline so complicated it makes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy look like Janet and John – The Early Years?
Or indeed, are you one of those people who recognises that the whole toffs v spies debate represents a false dichotomy, and decides to watch Fry’s Planet Word instead?
If you plumped for Stephen Fry last Sunday, you could well have ended up spluttering into your Horlicks. Because the programme was all about swearing.
Why we do it (if we do it), what effect it has on us, and whether it actually works.
There was some funny footage of Brian Blessed, swearmeister par excellence, sticking his hand in a tank full of iced water and turning the air blue.
And a clip of Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It going into four-letter meltdown at least showed that the BBC has its finger on the pulse of 21st-century discourse.
But Stephen Fry’s point, and it was a good one, was that the more you swear the less effective it becomes: the very occasional “Gadzooks” or “Odds Kittikins” dropped into one’s conversation is a heck of a lot more effective than an endless stream of filth if you really want to get your point across.
It’s all about communication, of course, and one problem today is choosing how to communicate, even with our nearest and dearest.
Picture if you will a blissful domestic scene: Mrs D is upstairs, doing something important on the computer.
Yours truly is in the kitchen, rustling up a light supper of toad in the hole with onion gravy.
Mrs D is starting to get hungry. But how should she best inquire about the arrival time of the sausage-and-battery comestibles?
By email, of course. The message is sent quickly and efficiently from the computer upstairs along BT’s sturdy copper wires (as long as no one’s nicked them), off to a mail server somewhere in Arizona, then via satellite to a second mail server in downtown Buenos Aires, and back via undersea cable and fibre optic switchgear to its final destination: the mobile device in the Dixon kitchen.
No need for shouting: the internet can take the strain. And anyway, you can’t hurry a toad in the hole.
Similarly when it’s time to call the kids to lay the table: rather than yelling up at them through a couple of floors, texting them in their bedrooms is so much more effective.
Soon there will come a time when all communication is electronic: we’ll have iPhones surgically implanted into our brains, and no one will speak face-to-face any more.
A nice thought, perhaps. But it won’t stop the swearing when you burn the toad in the hole.