A Sorry State Of Affairs

When I was young I was prone to occasional bouts of misbehaviour, the devilish little scamp that I was. Of course, childish naughtiness is hardly a rare trait for children to exhibit, and although the youth of today have abandoned scrumping for apples and digging for worms in favour of stabbing or raping each other, these petty misdemeanours shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone. My mother, however, would often despair at my infantile stupidity. Reprimands and sanctions were imposed, usually involving solitary confinement in my bedroom or deprivation of chocolate. It was perfect preparation for my inevitable future as a violent imprisoned criminal or tin-pot dictator.

However, these punitive measures did not sit well with me, so I would seek to escape from them. The easiest escape route often seemed like a simple apology. "I'm sorry, Mummy!" I would opine. Sometimes this worked. Other times, it didn't. "Sorry is just a word," she'd respond, coolly. "You're not really sorry." This response threw me off balance. Sincere or not, surely the best way to convey regret was with the word itself, my immature mind thought to itself. "Sorry" was the magic bullet and my mother had donned a magic Kevlar vest, obstructing my passage to freedom and chocolate. The canny bitch!


This one may need a few more Hail Marys than normal.

Sorry may just be a word, but it's a bloody useful one. A lot of senior Christians have been using it over the past few weeks. First up to the apology pulpit was the Pope himself, who was a bit sorry about all that systemic child abuse stuff in the Irish Catholic church (or, according to him, 'petty gossip'), not least because it was partly his fault. Then the Pope's preacher 'accidentally' pissed off the Jews, so out came another sorry. Then Rowan Williams, seemingly jealous of the great PR the Catholic Church was getting from all this kiddy fiddling and anti-Semitism, stuck his Anglican oar in before retracting it just as quickly. The only major Christian figure missing from this sorry spectacle was God Himself. I half expected him to descend from heaven and reel off a multitude of apologies on subjects ranging from famine and pestilence through to the existence of Robert Kilroy-Silk and the unacceptable dearth of Malteser bunnies in my local Sainsbury's.

Apologies must roll off your tongue very easily if you're Catholic, especially a priest. It's practically their state of mind. Most sins will 'wipe clean' after a good-ol' confessional and a few dashes of repentance. Be sorry, and God will forgive you. But you have to be TRULY sorry, mind you, lest you wish to be condemned to an eternity of damnation. In retrospect, my mother's attitude towards apologies was very similar to the Catholic Church's. Maybe she WAS the Catholic Church. No wonder I got such a bollocking when I etched a pentagram into my brother's forehead with a compass.

Pope Glitterati XXIV

He must almost be a saint by now.

Of course, those aforementioned God-botherers hadn't sinned in a traditional sense. Well, apart from the paedophiles, assuming paedophilia counts as a sin in Catholicism rather than a prerequisite for ordainment. Their sins were far more contemporary: saying something stupid to the media and subsequently looking like a massive arse. The God of News is an angry God, a God who has a hundred different means to smite you, on rolling news channels and news websites and blogs and tweets, before you've even woken up and had time to splutter into your Cornflakes whilst listening to the Today programme. This God has a quick turnaround time: Rowan Williams took about three hours to go from tit-headed statement to grovelling apology. And he hadn't even said anything particularly objectionable (as you can tell, I don't find slagging off Catholics to be particularly objectionable).

The Pope and his pals weren't sorry for what they said or did. They were sorry because it made them look like idiots, exacerbated by the spotlight of media exposure. Their apologies weren't penance, they were a face-saving exercise. Tiger Woods was likewise incredibly sorry for his recent sexual misadventures. He'd spent the best years of his life earning millions of dollars and fucking supermodels. I don't think he felt sorry for doing that. He was sorry because he got caught. He begged the media God for forgiveness, checking himself into a sex addiction rehabilitation clinic. As if we're supposed to accept sex addiction as a genuine medical condition. If someone proclaimed to you, "I'm such a chocoholic!" would you sit there, mouth agape, and persuade them to seek urgent psychological help? No. They're not addicted to chocolate. They just like it, probably because they're fat and greedy. Chocolate is not heroin, and sex is not crystal meth (although it is ecstasy with me, ladies, wink wink).

Tiger's apology didn't fool me, not that I remotely cared. It didn't fool his sponsors either, unfortunately for him. The damage was done. 'Sorry', even coupled with a stint in sex rehab, was not enough. But maybe it's not his fault. 'Sorry' has been devalued by persistent misuse, often by those who, like my younger self, believe it to be a super glue which magically patches up the effects of past misdeeds. A while ago, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Australian Aborigines for their long history of suffering at the hands of the colonists. But it wasn't Kevin Rudd's apology to make. To me, it seemed hollow, an apology on the behalf of perpetrators long-dead who probably, in their jingoistic mentality, would not share the sentiment. But a lot of people seemed to appreciate it. The media God was thusly pleased. Job done, eh, Kev?

I've not stopped apologising since I got older. In the infancy of this very website I wrote a few choice words about my then-current employer, who to my amazement discovered them, and, to my greater amazement, didn't see the funny side. It was probably the line about razing the entire shop with a busload of pensioners inside. Regardless, I was dragged into a disciplinary meeting. "What are you going to do about this?" asked an irate superior. "Well," said I, hearkening back to my younger days, "I'll make an apology..." Of course, I wasn't really sorry. If I was I wouldn't have republished the article when I left. Or boasted about the event in anecdotes or subsequent blog entries. The apology was a tactical manoeuvre to prevent my CV from reading along the lines of "dismissed from last job for making idle threat of arson on the internet". It was, to coin a phrase, a Papal apology.

My mother's admonishments, which I once considered to be little but the ramblings of a chocolate-depriving crone, now have a bit more clarity. Sorry IS just a word. True regret is actually pretty hard to come by. The question becomes, then, how do you know when an apology is a true expression of regret for the deed itself, or just regret for the discovery of it and consequences thereof? My mother seemed to know. Unfortunately, I don't have a fucking clue. Sorry about that.

Permalink || Posted 5/4/2010 by Pete


  1. Noodle - 6/4/2010 - 12:55am

    What a fucking bag of toss.

  2. Card Reader 19 in 1 - 14/7/2010 - 11:21am

    This was not about the isreal-plastercine conflict at all my son.

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