The Dog Eating Homework Syndrome

A genuine apology is an endangered species these days yet there is much to apologise for, suggests Colin Montgomery

How many times have you said sorry and meant it? I mean really meant it. As in a cast-iron, copper-bottomed, on your knees, scratchy underpants, blubbery mess, howl of despair, change my middle name to mea culpa apology. As opposed to the double-syllable shuffle that passes for a “so-reee?”

My guess is that the tally barely runs into double figures.

I’m sorry if I’ve misjudged you on that score. No, really, I am. ‘Sorry’ as in a cast-iron, copper-bottomed…no, I won’t subject you to that overwrought construct again. You get the gist.

It would only be one more reason to apologise anyway. Although that’s still a mouse’s canape worth compared to the vast ocean of unmade or unmeant apologies that are still sloshing about out there. I caught one having a piss in our hall yesterday; it wasn’t pretty.

Broad-brush lamentations are never a substitute for a forensic line-up of examples, facts and maybe even a psychological summary of the concept of guilt through the ages. But if you’re waiting for that, well, I hope you brought a shooting stick and some sarnies. You’ll be here ages.

Because this is going to be a massive venting exercise, with some added political venom and a dash of righteous indignation for piquancy. Even, dare I say, a harrumph garnish.

Sorry if that seems like Groundhog Day. I know I’ve wasted acres of print on such fool’s errands in this esteemed organ over the years. Indeed, I resolved to offer up something new, something more constructive. But I really can’t resist lancing this boil. We really are in a sorry mess. Nobody in public life seems able to either apologise or apologise and mean it. The tragic farce that is our politics being the chief offender.

Some scene setting first:

I guess it’s no great insight to observe that the pandemic has magnified all kinds of ills while shining a light on others. However, when the rug is pulled back, for all the beauty, kindness and humanity on show, there are a lot of maggoty little weevils, writhing and wriggling twixt the floorboards.

In fact, very soon it becomes clear that they threaten to take over the whole show. A terribly pessimistic reading I know, yet accurate.

To embellish the analogy further (and in a needlessly scatological way), it’s like the scene in Wizard of Oz where they pull the curtain back to reveal a silly old man pulling levers. But now the silly old man is squirting diarrhoea in your face while loudly refusing to acknowledge the existence of his own arsehole.

And by God, the arseholes really are starting to outnumber the non-apologies too. Which is a good time to cite some especially sorry examples perhaps.

First, the non-apology, specifically, a certain Priti Patel’s response to the UK’s failure to provide PPE in sufficient volumes to NHS workers at the height of the pandemic in April. She fronted it up with the words (and I quote): “I’m sorry if people feel there have been failings.” (The tried and tested logic of the psychopath, that “If people feel”.)

The sin itself being merely a matter of perception that is open to interpretation, a subjective understanding. A phantom.

Second, we have the missing and/or delayed apology. This particular phenomenon is now the hallmark of many failing governments of all political types across the world. But it tends to be the favoured tactic of the libertarian, pseudo-patriotic right wing. They never feel there’s anything to apologise for. To do so, would be an admission of failure. And that can’t be countenanced. Ever. You might get a shrug of acknowledgement, but it carries as much weight as a drunk driver offering to drive you to the hospital… after hitting you.

Third, we have the dog-ate-my-homework apology. This isn’t even an apology really. It’s more of an apology disguised as an excuse. We have to say something to placate people. So let’s make some old drivel up, microwave it for 30 seconds and chuck it in a bowl.

Often it’s so remarkably shameless in its outlandishness (I’m thinking the recent ‘mutant algorithm’ explanation by idiot Johnson) that you end up lured into apoplexy. Meanwhile, some other convenient patsy is offered a service revolver and a bottle of whisky. Needs must eh?

None of this should come as a surprise to me, or of course you, it’s become so routine for no one to offer up either meaningful words or an act of contrition or a heartfelt apology, that we are all quite comfortably numb to it. And of course, highly paid columnists, with infinitely better CVs than me, have been documenting a decline in accountability in all spheres of existence for years. But words about words having no power have, you guessed it, no power.

Sadly, the rot that has, and continues, to set in may throw up some less than pleasant surprises down the line. Not even down the line. We’re seeing the ugly fall-out happen already. And ultimately, the great irony is, the further into the mire we go, the more our existence will end up as an apology for itself. What a sorry state of affairs that will be.

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You may get a shrug of acknowledgement, but it carries as much weight as a drunk driver offering to drive you to hospital after hitting you