As someone who likes to start his week with a good chuckle, I was heartened by this morning’s Today programme (BBC Radio 4), which included a discussion on the increasingly recognised problem of back pain in the workplace. (Has your office insisted you attend a course on How To Lift Things, called “Manual Handling”, even though your job involves lifting nothing heavier than a new pack of A4 paper for the printer? Because ours most certainly has. Insert “nanny state” rant here.)
Eventually, the discussion touched upon Michael Jackson’s recent hospital treatment for back pain. Feeling the need to clarify the situation, the “expert” figure on the discussion panel helpfully explained that this would have been caused by stress, rather than by any “manual handling”.
As the studio descended into uproar, I once again remembered my favourite Today howler of all time. This occurred around 1996-97, when the gay activist Peter Tatchell was being interviewed by John Humphries about differing attitudes within the gay community regarding what constituted acceptable and/or effective forms of protest. At the time, there was still a lot of controversy surrounding the overtly confrontational media-grabbing stunts of Tatchell’s Outrage! organisation, as pitted against the impeccably courteous “softly-softly” lobbying approach of the establishment-friendly Stonewall group. This led Tatchell to suggest that for many British gay men, the distinction was irrelevant, since only a particular section of the gay community took an interest in gay politics in the first place.
In a dangerous rush of blood to head, Humphries felt a new theory coming on. Unwisely, he then proceeded to launch into it. (And, needless to say, I paraphrase from memory.)
“So, perhaps we could say that the gay population divides into two groups? The “active”, and the…”
Long, agonising pause, in which I imagined Tatchell sitting there, imperiously poker-faced, waiting to see how Humphries would dig himself out.
(dismissively, somewhat crossly) “…well, let’s not get too bogged down with categories here.”
Sadly, they never mention this one on the “blunder” compilations. But I don’t forget these things in a hurry.