This is about the consequences of publishing blog posts containing unwarranted assumptions, and a confession of personal crassness in that area.
From time to time I go through the Comments pages on Blogger Dashboard, not only to view (and nearly always delete) the ones that Google thinks are spam, but to conduct a 'housekeeping' exercise on the many pages of more respectable comments. This is necessary, because occasionally I get comments on posts some time after the post is published, and I would not otherwise see them. When you are a prolific poster, it isn't feasible to scroll back on the main web page, on the off-chance of discovering comments on posts put out two or three weeks ago, or even further in the past. But I can do it from the Dashboard, when I have an odd moment. In that way, I get to read at least some of the comments that I've hitherto missed.
I came across three comments yesterday that were not made straight after the post, and I was therefore unaware of them. All were by 'Anonymous', but all three writers did identify themselves when signing-off their comment, so I do know who they are. Two of the comments made me feel great. The third made me feel that I'd been rather stupid, and I would especially like to discuss it.
The two feel-good ones first. Last year, at the height of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I was in the Dorset town of Shaftesbury, and after the event wrote a post on 21 June 2012 titled Jolly happenings in Shaftesbury. I'd witnessed a street party earlier in the day, then in the evening I saw the Mayor making his way to the place where the town fire-beacon would be lit:
There was a great atmosphere and I enjoyed the entire occasion. So I was chuffed to discover that on 12 July 2012 the Mayor left this comment that I'd not seen before:
BTW... Our beacon time slot was 10:15, so in fact we were a little early! The idea was for a chain of beacons to spread out from HRH The Queens beacon that she had lit in London. Anyway, it matters not. Pleased you had a good time! :)
The Mayor of Shaftesbury
Fancy that. Now who made a search, and called my post to his attention, I wonder? And what a thing to happen, a presumably busy man making a comment to me! I'm impressed.
The second feel-good comment now. I'd seen an immaculate De Lorean sports car outside Waitrose in Winchester, and waxed lyrical about it in my post Back...to the Future! on 2 June 2010. Who wouldn't:
But I'd hitherto not seen this comment, made over a year later on 25 September 2011, by the actual owner of the car:
Thank you for taking some wonderful pictures of my car. I drive the car each week to the shops and it is very reliable, due to being serviced every 1000 miles and driven each week. I had to park in the disabled spaces as I tried to park in the underground car park and needed 3 members of staff and 2 hours to get back out again. I had permisison to park outside the store after that.
I really appreciate it, that this man took the trouble to respond, so long after my post!
Now for the third comment, the one I feel very awkward about, and have learned a lesson from. On 8 June 2012 I wrote a post titled Marriage on my mind, which touched on various aspects of a successful married relationship, and how nice it clearly is when it works. My post wandered into the topic of arranged marriages, and marriages between members of a supposedly elite set, and at the time I had this charming picture in Country Life to inspire me:
I wrote this as part of my post, based on that picture and the magazine notes beneath it:
Before me is a copy of Country Life. In fact it's the edition published on 30 May, just over a week ago. On page 45 is a charming picture of a not-quite-young lady (she's got to be almost 30, I'd say, because of her top job) called Miss Elizabeth Hemstock. It looks as if she's wearing a richly-woven dark red shawl over a virgin white nightdress. The subscript says this:
Lizzie, elder daughter of Mr and Mrs David Hemstock of Charnwood, Leicestershire, is to be married to Captain Merlin Hanbury-Tenison, The Light Dragoons, the son of Mr and Mrs Robin Hanbury-Tenison of Cabilla Manor, Cornwall. They will be married at Cardynham Church, Cornwall, on June 2. Lizzie is the UK brand manager of Gu Puds.
Well, she has clearly fallen under this young man's spell, as you would expect from his name! Love his magic, or love his horse, or love his smart uniform, this sounds like a peer-to-peer County Wedding par excellence. Guard of Honour, crossed sabres, the lot. And not the humble bonding by an anvil at Gretna Green of eloping lovers, planless, penniless, but free.
Hmmm. They've surely misspelled Cardinham. Cabilla Manor by the way is a country residence across the valley from the village of Warleggan on the south edge of Bodmin Moor. (Warleggan? All terribly Poldark)
I now think this seems flippant and over-personal. And I made some very silly assumptions about the circumstances of the couple's wedding. Captain Hanbury-Tenison wrote the following as a comment on 8 October 2012, to set the record straight, and to correct the false impression that my post had given. I feel absolutely obliged to reproduce it here, as a just rebuke:
I must agree with the other ‘commenters’ that you’ve written a lovely post and I can only agree with all of your sentiments and observations of love, marriage and companionship. I feel duty bound, however, to correct you in your errors regarding Lizzie, my wife, and me. I thought I would give you a snapshot of the true story rather than assumption of a ‘peer to peer’ marriage. As you quite rightly pointed out in your piece I am a Captain in the British Army. Lizzie and I met six weeks before I deployed on my third and final tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010. Our parents had never met before or even heard of each other. She is from the Midlands and I am from the South West. We quickly fell in love and wrote to each other every day for six months while I was in Afghanistan. The shawl that you mention in your post was a birthday present that I bought for her from a street seller in Kandahar market. As soon as I returned from war I knew that I wanted to marry her. I had met not only my soul mate but also my best friend. I waited a year before proposing because I didn’t want to rush her and I wanted to leave the Army before we married so that she wouldn’t have to go through the hell of another 6 months with me in Afghanistan.
I am a private person but I tell you this because I want you to know that we are madly in love and would most likely have greatly enjoyed spending an evening drinking wine with you if the opportunity had arisen. I feel that your allusion to the middle classes being less likely to have a marriage based on love is unfair and unfounded. In my 8 years in the military I lived with people from extremely underprivileged backgrounds and I saw a great many marriages fail. Often this was due to unwanted pregnancies, lust coming before love or complacency being mistaken for happiness. These problems span all classes and backgrounds. Arranged marriages can come in many forms and as Lizzie and I live in a small one bedroom flat I hardly think we are contenders for this unpleasant title.
I hope that you don’t find my comments rude but I was offended to be talked about when you don’t know me or my wife and yet you write as though you might.
PS. Lizzie is 27 (26 at the time of your writing). The reason for her ‘top job’ is entirely due to her competence, drive and professionalism.
Well, I am ashamed. The man's sincerity and restraint at what must have seemed a most annoying piece of writing on my part is remarkable. I wrote this yesterday beneath his comment:
I've just seen your comment, Captain, and because I made those assumptions I offer my apologies for my consequent misrepresentation of your meeting and marriage. My very best wishes for the future.
But that did not seem sufficient. Nothing less than a full disclosure of my error would do. Hence this post.
I do hope that Captain Hanbury-Tenison, who says he is a private person, is not further offended by my making this kind of fuss. I simply think that one should publicly own up to important errors, and not let them stay buried. I will, in the future, be much more careful about what I say.