Shared Moments: ‘Conversation’ written by Oliver Cross

One of the most regrettable side-effects of the Covid pandemic, aside from death, illness and impoverishment, is that it encouraged people to talk more, even though there’s less to say.

For example, there was a time, at the height of the vaccination drive, when everybody wanted to tell everybody else that they had had one or both of their inoculations, that staff were friendly and efficient and that they felt fine afterwards, or if they didn’t that they weren’t grumbling, even though what they were doing might easily be mistaken for  grumbling.

The larger implications of the global pandemic, along with associated concerns such as the sausage shortage, were largely ignored. This is what happens when the nation pulls together; we all focus on the big issue, in this case getting everybody jabbed, at the expense of ordinary, pleasant conversation.

The big issue as I write is the European football championships. I don’t know anything about football, especially as played by foreigners, but I do know, because so many people say so, that beating Germany last month was one of the finest moments in England’s history.

It almost exactly replicated our win against a country which no longer exists at an earlier stage of a different competition which took place before most people were born. If football really were to come home, it would find itself in the middle of the Vietnam War.

As well as the much-heralded ‘great summer of sport’ we also face a summer of quite unnecessary talk in which experts tell the viewers what they think is about to happen, although if the viewers wanted a definitive view of how the game might progress, they would be better advised to wait for it to start, maybe filling in the time by darning a sock or making a mug of Bovril (which is my attempt to recreate the spirit of  ’66.)

Commentators try to help by offering insights like ‘Both teams will be hoping for an early goal’, or ‘Andy Murray will be looking dour’, as if that might deepen our understanding of what sports people do, other than to demonstrate their hard-won skills with or without the help of chattering pundits.

Although chattering has, over the pandemic, become a declining skill. Just because we’re living through our greatest health emergency since the last one, we’ve started taking things too seriously and chattering opportunities have become scarce.

Before we even start we’ve got to check we’re socially distanced and correctly masked or, if the conversation is being conducted by Zoom, that we’ve hidden the discarded beer cans and takeaway cartons, which wouldn’t sit well with our claims to have spent all day making artisan vegan quiches.

(Incidentally, I join with a group of friends in regular Zoom get-togethers at which the chief problem is not that we’re lying our heads off; it’s that the honest, unvarnished truth of our lockdown lives is seldom more entertaining than algebra, or curling).

At which point, as I often do, I turn to my guru, Dr Samuel Johnson, who thought the happiest conversations were the ones which left a pleasing impression, even though nobody could remember later what the heck they were about. These may resume when bars and cafes reopen fully and when we all drop our guard a bit.