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Small Talk – on getting away for the holidays.


Escape the city. Hit the open road. Get back to nature. 

It’s the Christmas holidays – the perfect time to travel with my beloved to the Highlands of Scotland for seclusion, romance and breathtaking scenery. A mish mash of images from Performance Car and Wuthering Heights immediately morph in my head.

Sadly, real life doesn’t usually match our expectations because our fantasies have now been digitally enhanced. Photoshop doesn’t just eliminate cellulite from model’s thighs, it can remove tractors from open roads and increase the depth of color on Highland moors. The real thing doesn’t seem as vivid as the picture in our imagination.

But more annoyingly, the real thing doesn’t allow for our contradictory demands – like the combination of isolation and comfort.

We want a remote cottage, but one that contains all the conveniences of city life – under floor heating, hot water and a Starbucks next door. Perhaps a Michelin star restaurant down the road. Oh and Wi-Fi.

Of course that’s not going to happen. Luxury to rural folk is a phone system that works in a gale force wind – so they can tell someone the power lines are down and the back up generator’s been blown into the next bay. Remote cottages are damp and bleak. Unlike Don Draper, Heathcliff’s reticent demeanor wasn’t done for effect – he was just cold and probably bored.

So we opt for the country house hotel instead. Fluffy towels, deep claw footed bath tubs and coffee that at least looks familiar (with foam on top).

We park the 4 wheel drive in the car park and enter a medieval romance – wood panelled walls, covered with a tapestries depicting the Knights Templar. A jovial host takes our luggage and ushers us towards the sitting room for a welcome drink.

It was all going so well. Until we remembered…

There would be other people!

What is it about small talk that fills us with dread?

We meet our fellow guests and immediately launch into a game of social charades, played to unwritten rules we’ve absorbed over the years. Where are you from? How was your journey? What brought you here? We’ve exhausted all the preliminaries and the drinks haven’t arrived yet! There is an awkward pause as we struggle to the next level – What do you do for a living? This is slightly more personal, but desperate to avoid the silence, I ask the question anyway. There’s bound to be SOME common ground.

“Insurance Broker”.

Dear God.

Fortunately the host arrives with the wine, allowing a whole new conversation stream to open up. “I know this fabulous little vineyard we discovered in France last year… Of course supermarkets are killing the smaller importers… Some of the Chilean Sauvignons are giving the Marlboroughs a run for their money…”

We make our excuses and head for the room.

Half an hour later, up to our neck in hot water and bubbles, we consider that…

Conversation needs a revamp for the Energy Age.

In primitive times, we developed words to get our physical needs met – food, sex and territory. Our main concerns were survival and competition for resources. Our lower conscious questions were “Can I eat it? fuck it? or steal it?”

But then we evolved. We ate from the tree of knowledge, developed a neo cortex and suddenly had thousands more words at our disposal. We could use words to express our ideas… politics, philosophy, poetry. Now that most of us are not short of food or shelter, we’ve gone past the above primitive questions it… but energetically? – not really. It’s just the words themselves that have become more sophisticated. “Can I determine if you could be useful to my future plans? Can I seduce you? Will you like me! trust me! buy my stuff!?”

In the chakra system primitive thinking is represented by the lower chakras and intellectual thinking by the upper ones. But there’s a piece we’re missing in the centre – the chakra that links these two. It’s the heart.

Without the heart all conversation is just data gathering from a distance. There’s no real connection, so the conversation is boring.

Words are tricky things. We don’t have enough of them. We have too many of them. Or perhaps the ones we have don’t convey what we mean any more.

Words don’t allow us to connect in any meaningful way.

We’re moving into the Energy Age and words are a blunt instrument when it comes to defining energy.

Meanwhile,back at the hotel, it’s time for dinner. Brioche croute with goose liver. Veloute of celeriac with truffled mushrooms. If it could talk, this food would demand to be photographed for a lifestyle magazine. Our fellow diners speak in hushed tones, perhaps out of reverence for the cuisine or perhaps to disguise how little they have to say to each other. The atmosphere feels like a cross between a church and an old peoples’ home.

Energy has left the building.

The following morning, like a couple of co-conspirators we make our excuses and leave. The cottage is suddenly the preferable option. The car battles through a squall – gale force winds and horizontal rain. Nature is definitely in charge here. The elements are neither civilised or polite, but they’re real. And we’re grateful for that.

An hour later we reach signs of civilisation! A village with church and shops! But Goddam those expectations again! The church is boarded up and the only things for sale in the food store are a hundred brands of confectionary, tinned soup and magazines. As for the gift shop, there is only one word – Why? Can there really be any market left for ceramic thimbles, tartan tea towels and teddy bears in sporrans. The proprietor looks up anxiously as we walk past the window of generic awfulness.

We want to connect, but there’s no mechanism to do so. We feel guilty for not needing a single thing he has to sell. We’d happily pay $20 for a macchiato.

Forty years ago, Harvard Business School professor Ted Levitt came up with an observation that was a revelation for marketing people.  “No-one needs a drill – they need a hole.” Now, other business gurus have developed this to its logical conclusion. “Nobody needs a hole, they need to hang art. Nobody needs to hang art, they need to be happier.” So, whether people are selling tacky gifts, lipstick or holidays, delve a little deeper and we find that… everyone is in the happiness business.

Later, in the solitude of the cottage, we dine on peanuts, marshmallows and instant hot chocolate, but there is an endless supply of laughter and conversation.

Our context is changing. As we evolve, our needs change too, so it’s important to re-evaluate them constantly. We think we know what makes us happy. But often our dreams of happiness are artificially created by images and influences that we have never really questioned.

Who are you? How do you live? What makes you smile? What makes you frightened? When do you feel inspired? 

These are soul questions. Not data gathering ones. We often can’t answer them in words and even if we could, we don’t need any more data (we really don’t need any more data!)

We’re all in the happiness business now.

No more “Read My Lips”. Read the energy. Try to imagine how to language it. For in that language we can create a new shared meaning. And out of that will come…

Big Talk.


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Filed in General, 2 comments


  1. Donna says:

    Again brilliant!! I missed this the first time around. Thanks for reposting.

  2. Helena Foss says:

    Eleanor, you’re too funny. God, how I hate small talk too. Rather have a root canal. Thanks for making me laugh today.

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