Peter Bromhead: The perplexing art of conversation

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Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

When I casually mentioned recently that I might enrol in a winter education activity called "the art of conversation", the caregiver appeared perplexed.

"Why would you waste time on conversation courses, when you're already capable of talking the hind legs off a donkey?" she responded.

"Exactly ... that's my problem," I replied. "According to the experts," I continued - holding up the educational booklet freshly arrived in the mail - "the secret of 'good conversation' is to avoid 'conversational narcissism'. This is about understanding other people's viewpoints and learning to adopt a stance oozing with benevolence. I'll be taught how to nod my head in agreement occasionally and puncture conversations with a few 'hmmm's' and 'uh-huh's' at the appropriate moment," I earnestly explained.

"You're not planning to enter politics, by chance?" the caregiver asked anxiously.

"The thought had crossed my mind, but the problem with a political career is, I'd be replacing 'conversational narcissism' with 'cartoon narcissism' - because as a professional lampoonist, I'm bound to find my own follies more interesting than the blunders of others," I modestly concluded.

At this point the caregiver commandeered the booklet and started looking for a more appropriate hobby for a man of my advanced years.

Searching the creative section, she found workshops on "book repairs," and "handcrafting greeting cards", suggesting these pastimes would keep me more suitably occupied.

However, as I don't buy books anymore, preferring to download reading material on the iPad, and certainly gave up mailing greeting cards years ago following the arrival of the internet, I responded negatively.

"I suppose it's also a waste of time suggesting synchronised, soulful breathing classes?" she continued, with fading enthusiasm, knowing that beyond waking daily and reassuring myself that I am still breathing, I have little interest in the mechanics of human physiology.

Suddenly, the caregiver cried out, "what's all this then?" Having idly worked her way to the back of the book, she'd discovered a page which I'd foolishly underlined with ink - being the actual activity I had seriously thought about - which happened to be on the same evening as the "art of conversation" classes.

"Latin Rhythm hot dancing classes - guaranteeing a fun time for both sexes," she balefully read aloud, before vigorously throwing the book back at me.

"I thought it would keep me fit," I weakly replied, frantically trying to recover the lost art of cordial conversations with the wife.

- NZ Herald

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