I was watching one of those clichéd movie moments the other night instead of doing something productive. It was the moment when the hero says something similar to “That’s a line I will not cross!”. Usually there is dramatic body language attached, including miming drawing a line, presumably in mimed sand.
I recently discovered within myself a steely core of resistance in another area. In retrospect it was not really surprising but I was a little taken aback at the time.
It involved tea.
There is no doubt that clichés are popular because they resonate within us, and highlight something we all recognise. In this case, we all have limits to what we are prepared to do. Milgram’s infamous experiments purported to demonstrate that people can be pushed further if someone in a white coat and with an air of authority is doing the pushing. Whatever the validity of the findings it is true that authority figures can push us along, and potentially arguable that that is how organised religion gets away with so much. Let’s not go there today though.
The reason I am musing on this cliché is that I know I have my own limits. In some cases these are reflected in the charities I choose to support; for example, I prefer to donate to mental health charities rather than donkey sanctuaries, or overseas aid rather than diabetes. All of them are important but I have to prioritise. I will still put a few quid in any of those tins if shaken at me, or if someone is jumping from a helicopter, or whatever. I am just more likely to put additional time or effort into some of them, although sometimes it’s about what skills I have to offer or location and timing. I trust that other people prioritise differently and we all balance out.
I am a signed up professional so I adhere to a code of conduct. This means there are lines at work I will not cross either, and I have had occasion a couple of times in my career to have to stand firm. It has worked. People aren’t evil or stupid on the whole.
Back to the Tea Incident then.
I recently had surgery on both shoulders and as a result when I woke up from the anaesthetic I was severely restricted in movement. The nurses bustled about me and made me feel cocooned in a warm fuzzy glow. They brought me a glass of water with a straw because I couldn’t lift anything. I sucked it gratefully.
This was an English hospital, perhaps more importantly a Yorkshire hospital, so naturally the next question was not “how are you feeling?” but “would you like a cup of tea?”.
I indicated that I would. In fact I actually croaked out “Oh God! Yes!” and hoped it didn’t sound too desperate or needy.
The tea lady checked how I took it (strong, dark and handsome, if you must know), and returned with a mug of the beautiful brew. A mug, I repeat, because this is the home of right and proper tea drinking. God bless Yorkshire and the NHS.
There was only one small blemish on the tea horizon. She had put a straw in it.
“You can’t lift that,” she said. “So I put the straw in.”
“I’m not having tea through a straw,” I thought. I said it out loud too.
I reached forward through gritted teeth to lift the mug of hot, steaming liquid.
The tea lady sucked in her breath audibly.
The other patients all froze, eyes glued to my bed, like a group of medicalised meerkats.
Somewhere the orchestra played tense music at the rate of a rapidly beating heart.
The nurse at the next bed went into one of those slow motion dives across the room, hand outstretched, crying out “Noooooooooooooooooo!” as my arm wobbled and I winced with the pain.
Of course I didn’t spill it. It was tea. You don’t waste tea. It tasted wonderful.
As they say round here, even my dog wears boots.
What are the lines you won’t cross, great or small? What are the risks you will take?