THE VIEW FROM HERE, by Ian de Stains OBE
When I was growing up, music was a constant in our household. My father’s favorite repertoire included the so-called Savoy Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Though very much 19th century in their sentiment, many are still performed today and the most regularly staged of all is “The Mikado”. Setting the piece in Japan — then very remote from Britain and so most exotic — allowed the lyricist W.S. Gilbert to satirize British society and the institutions of the day by focusing on events in the town of Titipu. Looming large in that community is the Lord High Executioner, who demonstrates his influence by keeping a little list of people with irritating habits who “never would be missed.”
I’m certain one of the reasons the song strikes such a chord, even today, is the fact that — if only secretly — we all have such a little list.
Here, in no particular order of importance, and to kick off the New Year, is a sample of my own:
• People who abuse apostrophe’s.
• Those young Japanese women who sit — and worse, stand — next to you in a crowded train armed with an entire cosmetics paint-box and a mirror which might do justice to a Tokyo apartment bathroom and proceed to apply their faces. As the courtesy posters have it, “Do it at home!”
• Anyone who stands near to you on a crowded train with the volume of their iPod or other device turned to the level where you can’t quite hear the music itself but are subjected to the tinny spill-over the from their ear plugs.
• Japanese women of a certain age who affect to speak with child-like voices in the utterly incorrect belief that this is somehow appealing to members of the opposite sex (at any rate the non-Japanese members thereof).
• Makers of television programs who insist on using vocals as background music. BGM is supposed to add atmosphere that aids the appreciation of what is being said and done, not intrude by demanding attention in and of itself, as lyrics do. The best examples of BGM are those the audience don’t really notice, but would miss if they were not there.
• Anyone who smokes where other people are eating. Especially those who go to absurd lengths to demonstrate they are blowing their repellant excreta away from the company they’re in. The same people usually contrive to hold their cigarettes in unorthodox ways as if they don’t actually belong to them as if this, too, excuses this revolting habit.
• Anyone who owns or operates an eating establishment and allows smoking on the premises. Anywhere. Anytime.
• People who dress up their dogs in frilly frocks (especially if the poor mutt is a male — even if neutered) and then take them for “walks” in specially designed pushchairs. The money they spend on this nonsense (and on such bling as jeweled collars and leashes) should be extracted from them and donated to ARK.
So there! Happy 2011!
Ian de Stains is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The views expressed in this column are strictly his own and are not necessarily endorsed by or shared by the Chamber.