DON’T BE SILLY

It is time to declare a war on silliness.

I am not thinking about of fun, frivolity or childish capers or, for the matter, temporary lapses in sensible behaviour, but the occasions when we find ourselves caught up in a game that has no purpose, no tangible outcome and makes absolutely no sense at all.  Some rule is to be kept some box is to be ticked, some guidance is to be followed, some protocol has to be adhered to.  Everyone knows it is absolutely pointless and quite ridiculous, but we go along with it all the same. We comply with a shrug of our shoulders and a roll of the eyes.

These games are not new, of course, they have been around for some time and we have become used to them and accepted them as just one of these things.

I recall 40 years ago submitting drawings to the council for building warrants. These were always checked by the officers who would always find something to query or insist on some refence to a standard we had to comply with. In those days you took your drawings to the office, waited to be seen and had the drawings laid out on a large desk to be poured out by the nippy official with a red marker. It was an act of ritual humiliation and I never understood why we put up with it. But we did, and that was what happened. One of things that always came up was the issue of high alumina cement. It was the cause of the collapse of a roof in a school swimming pool in Stepney. Mercifully no one was in the building at the time, but the use of this material was thereafter banned. Itwas, however, never used in Scotland and even if the proposal on the drawings involved no concrete at all, still we had to add a note to the effect that “No HAC will be used in this contract”.  It was, of course a minor irritant and no big deal. You simply had the note pre -printed on every drawing and that was that 

But the trouble is, when you accept this role, you are playing a game of silliness and the worry is that having acquiesced over something small it makes it harder to resist over something more serious and more sinister. Tyranny has thrived in the world when people go along with things, they know are false, but accept as no big deal. Why make a fuss if instead of “Good morning” we say “Hiel Hitler”? It’s just words after all. I am I being overdramatic. I don’t think so.

I have one more recent example from my own discipline that galvanised my thoughts on this.  I was involved with the design of alterations to a domestic building. Against my advice the clients opted to oversee the construction side of the project themselves. (programmes like grand designs have a lot to answer for here) . When it came to getting a certificate for the completed building, however, the officer noted a minor alteration to the plans – a glass screen in a structural opening was omitted. The officer requested an amendment to the warrant as they are at liberty to do and this of course incurs a fee. I knew it was foolish, but in order to be helpful I offered to submit a new application. I was then told that we also needed a structural engineer’s certificate to cover the variation. I protested. The alterations had no structural significance at all. I knew that, the officer knew that and my 9yr old grandson would know that too. Still, he insisted, and when I asked why, he simply said it was protocol. (“Protocol” is the brick wall you meet in this game. It stops any further progress, defies argument and is what the officials can conveniently hide behind.) The stark facts were: If we didn’t get the necessary certificate, the application would be refused, my client would not get a completion certificate and she may not be able to sell the house further down the line.  Something clicked in me. I had had enough. We all knew this was silly and all we were doing was wasting other people’s time and money following a rule that had come adrift from its original purpose. I told the council and the client I wasn’t doing it and walked away*.

That little defiance has encouraged me to keep my eyes and ears open and watch for the approach of silliness and, while it will not necessarily change anything, I am sure, at least I will be able to recognise it and say  “Go on then, play your little game and do what you want to do, no matter how stupid it is, but don’t expect to get any help from me.”

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