• Author:Ben Jones
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Everyone’s a critic

I gave Mrs J a look – the proverbial kick under the table. I repeated the action. And then again. This time her attention was grabbed. Third time lucky. I then did my best Bob Carrolgees impression – minus the offensive dog – mouthing something incomprehensible out of the corner of my mouth. Of course this failed so Mrs J threw me a blank look. What is he talking about?

I then tried the old linesman’s trick – covering my mouth with my hand whilst chatting to the ref. This time some success. Mrs J now knew what I knew; we were in the presence of the hotel inspectors.

Sadly, this did not cue the arrival of Basil, Manuel, Bernard Cribbins and co but instead a pot of tea to accompany our lunch. Mrs J and I were out enjoying lunch together – Miss J was having fun with her friends in nursery. Sat across from us were a man and women going through their notes – more than a little audibly – about their experiences in the nearby local hotels. Being a seaside resort – albeit one that at times can look like the land that time forgot – there are plenty of resting places to choose from. I was pleased to hear about the firmness of the bed and offer to make a packed lunch at last night’s lodgings, although less happy to hear about the paper thin walls. They were a walking Trip Advisor and judging by their judging, they’d had an eventful night.

This is not the first time my covert skills have been put to good use. I’ve always felt that I had perhaps missed my calling as a spy – not the Jame Bond kind, but the sitting behind a large newspaper and listening at tables kind. I am sure that my observation skills – a counsellor I worked with once called me “highly vigilant” – were part inherited and part learnt at the knee of family members, especially my Nan and Mum. Within seconds of walking in somewhere they would have the whole place decked – who’s here, who looks dodgy, where’s the bar, why is that man wearing a coat in the middle of the summer? These skills have stood me in good stead, not just today in my people watching but throughout life; although apart from these musings and the ability to make people laugh in that northern way of observing stuff and commenting on it, I am yet to find a useful outlet for them.

My own John Le Carre episode this morning got me thinking, not just about my own red squirrel skills, but also about the constant presence of critics and judges in our lives. Wherever we turn someone is passing judgment on someone else. In the media, online or in person. It appears there is no opinion on someone else now – especially in politics – that doesn’t impinge on their motives or character. We can’t just disagree, we have to put each other down whilst doing it. Our TVs pump out this stone casting all day, every day. Britain’s Got Talent. Strictly. Made in Chelsea. Reality TV, full stop. People open up their lives for others to judge them and create an army of armchair critics. Sports commentators – with fancy machines – circling, drawing lines, drawing conclusions. Amazon ratings. GoCompare. The spin room after last night’s ‘Battle for No 10’ non-debate debate. Trump, well on everything and everyone. Comments on social media on someone’s post, photo or comment.  The Mail – every day and in almost every piece. Pippa’s dress. Corbyn’s suit. May’s shoes. Everyone a critic. Everyone with an opinion on you and your opinion.

Those who live in the public eye, whether in politics, sport, the media, or the arts and entertainment, know that sadly this goes with the territory. I am nowhere near as sure that we should just accept that for the rest of us. Why should we have to face this juganaut of judging throughout our lives? I was really excited when Jeremy Corbyn launched his leadership with the offer of a kinder, gentler politics – and look at it now. Emma Barnet is abused within minutes of asking questions, politely and professionally today, doing the people’s business for them. This is not his failure – it is ours. We all do too much judging. We don’t do enough understanding. Not nearly enough acceptance of others or acceptance of ourselves.

As many others have said, when you judge a book by its cover you may be missing an amazing story. That said, you may wish to avoid the Fatty Owls Hotel, Southport, if you know what’s good for you.


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