Do you regularly strike up conversations with strangers in public? Unless you’re a friendly senior citizen, a charity chugger or the last bloke on the building site to hear of “street harassment”, the answer is probably “no”. Well, not in normal circumstances, anyway. But a general election — one with the potential to bring about great, much-needed change for this country — is not really a normal circumstance.
The coming polls have already changed my idea of fun, for instance. The stark choice on offer this December 12 has prompted me and thousands of others like me to do something we would never normally do, and have never done before: go canvassing. That means gathering together with other like-minded people (Labour supporters, in my case) and going door to door, engaging total strangers in conversation about the things that matter most.
This is not small talk, this is big talk. In marginal constituencies from Chingford to Putney I’ve engaged in earnest conversations about the NHS, Brexit and structural racism. Oh, if 21-year-old Ellen could see me now, she would be inside-out with incredulity and hipper-than-thou disdain. Back then, I viewed political activists of any shade as risible young fogeys, only out campaigning for their party because they hadn’t been invited to any parties of the fun kind. Now, look at me: I’m out every weekend and some school nights too, fuelled not by rum, but by righteousness.
The secret is that once you get past the initial hurdle, “in-real-life” conversation is easy. Yet, for many people that initial hurdle feels insurmountable. Keyboard warriors are notorious for cowering behind the shields of their smartphones, but the rest of us are becoming just as bad. We would rather email a colleague than walk over to their desk; we’re more likely to send a text to a sick relative than call; and who among us still saves their wittiest chat for
Friday night beers when there’s a WhatsApp group, open all hours, for instant affirmation?
Even politicians, who are practised at public speaking, seem to find face-to-face, one-to-one conversation unnerving. It now looks as though Boris Johnson will dodge his interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil entirely, but he can’t avoid interacting with the public on walkabouts. The heckles rain down, yet I sincerely believe that, if asked, Mr Johnson would agree it’s an essential and ultimately enjoyable exercise. Facebook Live might satisfy Downing Street’s “digital-first approach”, but it’s only when you get out from behind the screen, without scripted remarks or prepared statements that you discover what’s really going on. As the army veteran who recently pointed out the Prime Minister’s dandruff put it: “Someone had to say something.”
Political canvassing might seem an extreme way to overcome the modern phobia of in-person communication, but that’s how bad it’s got. Immersion therapy is our only recourse and what’s more, the results are instant. We have let poor online manners obscure an uplifting truth that, on the doorstep, is abundantly clear: most people are fundamentally nice, even the ones you disagree with.
Gemma hun, you’re the best Secret Santa
She has been bringing Joy to the World ever since she fell through the stage at the Radio 1 Teen Awards in 2017. But did you know Gemma Collins is only a few reindeer away from actually being Santa Claus?
The TOWIE star turned “hun” extraordinaire, pictured, has told the Daily Star about her fondness for not-so-anonymous giving. “They never know it’s from me. I just slip it through their door,” she confided.
If that doesn’t fill you with fuzzy feelings, note that it’s not just GC’s nearest and dearest who can look forward to a tenner through the letterbox this Christmas: “I don’t have to know them directly,” she said. “If I know a family is struggling or if I see things on Facebook where a tragedy has happened, then I’ll go through various people and find out where they are… that’s what I like to do.”
Gemma’s gifting method is more practical than presents-down-the-chimney and — dare I say it — more welcome, too. Some give books, but who wants to work their way through someone else’s reading list? Others give clothes, but one woman’s “chic knitwear” is another’s “itchy jumper”.
That’s why cash in an envelope is always the best gift at Christmas. Or at any other time, for that matter. (Hint, hint.)
* There are now exactly no more sleeps until we, ahem, serious music fans get to unwrap the most anticipated present of the year.
Yes, the Spotify Wrapped playlists are out today, bringing together all our favourite jams of the past 12 months into one convenient listen. Sadly the algorithmic elves who do the compiling aren’t smart enough to disregard obvious finger-slips such as Cheryl’s first solo album played seven times in a single day. That’s why “pretending to be shocked by your own terrible taste in music” is the new “feigning gratitude at novelty socks from the in-laws”.