Rhodri Marsden: Let me just finish... talking over people is the height of rudeness

Life on Marsden

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While slumped in front of Newsnight last week with a bag of peanuts and a bad temper, I watched David Laws MP attempt to hammer his somewhat liberal and vaguely democratic views home by talking loudly while other people were still talking.

This kind of behaviour appears to be mutually tolerated amongst politicians, who've all been to a media-training class entitled "Module 7B: If You'd Just Let Me Finish". But you got the feeling that Laws might actually have forgotten the art of conversation – and maybe does the same thing at dinner parties hosted by people too polite to upturn a soup tureen over his head while challenging the Right Honourable Member for Yeovil to "talk his way out of that one".

We're surrounded by oaves (my preferred plural) who seem to view other people's utterances as bollards that need to be flattened by their own vocal steamroller. I know a couple who are simply unable to keep a four-person conversation going; terrified by the prospect of only contributing a quarter of the chat, one of them will inevitably start a second simultaneous conversation with the other person at the table. Trying to sabotage their deeply ingrained behaviour can be fun, but it involves an exhausting game of visual juggling; you have to keep permanent eye contact with both of them knowing that, if you lose either gaze for more than two seconds, one of them will break away and begin blathering to the fourth person about the sodding euro. 

"I'm sorry, what were you saying?" is the conventional apology for talking over someone, but it's a non-apology, and no-one can be blamed for replying "Oh, nothing, it doesn't matter." Just think of all the bon mots and ground-breaking ideas that have remained unspoken because some bloke wanted to offload some tedious information about his niece. His aim: to win his own conversation competition, to emerge victorious by sustaining a blaring fortissimo, his downtrodden opponents meekly surrendering as he manages, somehow, to continue endlessly talking about his niece. From now on we must fight back with our own simultaneous monologues about our nieces, even if we don't have any, creating some kind of omniphonic multi-gobbed niece-a-thon, all of us refusing to back down as society crumbles around us and the Lib Dems claim that it's not their fault.

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