I saw the sign yesterday as I waited to get served in Boots in Llandudno. I was on one of those manic shopping frenzies you sometimes get on the way to your holiday destination. Your suitcase is carefully packed, as is your hand luggage, but suddenly you are overtaken by the overwhelming need to buy MORE THINGS – another book, some wet wipes, some ear-plugs. It might be at the airport, or on the ferry, or a motorway service station. In my case, it was a chemist chain in a slightly faded but charming North Wales seaside resort, which certainly added to the surreal quality.
So I was waiting at the counter with my bamboo socks and yet another pot of face cream when I saw the sign: ‘How did we make you FEEL today?’ How did you make me FEEL, Boots, HOW DID YOU MAKE ME FEEL? My immediate response was to think: jaded, sardonic and a bit hungry, but then I remembered that’s how I feel all the time. My next thought was that I felt distressed that, in a few short years, Britain has become the sort of country where we are all required to express how we FEEL about buying athlete’s foot cream and nasal spray.
(Actually the real answer was – I feel relieved that I have something to BLOG about today, but is that pulling aside the Emerald City curtain a bit too much? I’m not sure.)
When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s Britain was a nice, normal, straightforward place to live. Your feelings were very much kept to yourself – that was the rule. You might, from time to time, feel something and you may even – very very occasionally – express those feelings in an appropriate manner.
On your wedding day, for example, if you had drunk a lot of Double Diamond, and it had worked wonders, you might mutter a gruff ‘Er, I love you’ to your new spouse, under your breath. Other than that, you just went about your normal everyday business, falling off your chopper and eating Fruit Salad (not actual fruit salad of course, we didn’t eat fruit in the 70s unless it came tinned with syrup) and no one required you to express your feelings about anything.
But in 2011 we are all required to give our feedback, all day long, and it’s exhausting. Interestingly, though, the more minor the event, the more lavish and extensive are the feedback forms. The other day I spent about 15 minutes feeding back in a sort of pod thing about my experience of taking my children swimming in one of those places with flumes and bad coffee machines, trying dutifully to decide if my experience was ‘excellent’ or merely ‘satisfactory’. (There was no button to press marked ‘soul-destroying’.)
A few years ago, I used to run short training courses for couples expecting babies. On the first day, I would tell them how the baby was going to come out; on the second day I told them that the baby was going to cry, a lot. The whole thing could have taken half an hour, really, but at the end of it I would give them long forms requiring them to rate the experience in an extremely complicated way involving ticks, crosses and smiley faces. I would watch them chewing their pens, trying hard to care about how they rated the pace of the day on a scale of 1-to-OhGodPleaseJustLetMeGoHome. The only decent feedback I ever really got was about the quality of the refreshments; on reflection, maybe I should have skipped all that bouncing around on beanbags and just stuck them all in a room with a choice of teas and some really nice biscuits.
On the other hand, when it comes to the really important stuff, we get barely a chance to express our opinion, and only then in a very minimal way. These days, I try to teach children how to use their native language for three hours a week; no feedback forms for them. (THANK GOD.)
And what about feedback for the people who run the country, change the way we live our lives? One X on the ballot papers, once every four years. Once Cameron has finished asking everyone what makes them happy, maybe he’d like to pop round so we can all give him some feedback, tell him how we FEEL about things? And maybe he could bring that Michael Gove with him: I’ve got plenty to say about how HE makes me feel*.
*desperate, murderous and a bit queasy.