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Rutland columnist Allan Grey discusses ‘trigger warnings’

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Increasingly, much of our history and culture is now deemed problematic as we ever more seek to protect ourselves from history’s perceived unpleasantness, writes Rutland columnist Allan Grey.

This was brought home to me once again after reading recently that tutors at Bath Spa University now feel it necessary to issue ‘trigger warnings’ to young students about exposure to some mildly adult concepts they might encounter whilst studying the literature of Keats, or Wordsworth, or Shelley, content which might disturb or distress them.

The University of Warwick goes even further, even banning the term ‘trigger warning’ over concerns the phrase could potentially upset some students, and will now refer to them as ‘content notes’, the word ‘trigger’ being deemed too provocative for those on drama and literature courses... oh, bless.

Travel photography. Credit: iStock
Travel photography. Credit: iStock

Some of my favourite writers are often controversial. However, I mostly manage to retain a sense of proportion and fortunately haven’t suffered any anxiety or panic attacks after reading their work recently. Alongside our own choice of reading we have some very distressing global images, 24/7 social media angst and the weekly torment of ‘Have I Got News for You’ to contend with currently.

Notwithstanding all this I find I’m still able to make considered personal distress assessments and decide for myself if I wish to read a particular story, or watch a certain show, or not. Our TV still has both a ‘mute’ button and an ‘off’ button, I can still unfriend any noxious numpty on Facebook or Twitter, and I can still turn the page of a newspaper or book if I sense trauma or tears is about to ensue.

My own ability to self-assess aside, I realise that I may have been a little blasè with some of the topics I’ve covered in my regular column and I don’t want to take anything for granted anymore, I can’t risk disturbing or offending you any longer. Suffice to say, that after careful consideration of the age profile of readers of this column, I do plan to start issuing ‘trigger warnings’ ahead of any words, phrases or topics that I feel may be problematic, likely to cause you a little discomfort, or worse still need you to take to a darkened room for the rest of the day and seek professional counselling.

When you see (TW), please be on your guard, either prepare to be mightily offended, or skip ahead to the next paragraph, or better still turn the page, calm down and complete the weekly Sudoku. If in the past I have caused any upset, then I sincerely apologise, particularly to all those (TW) Range Rover drivers, lessons will most definitely be learned, and like all lessons learned, shortly after filed under ‘You’re Having a Laugh’.

As a young lad, my earliest memory of a (TW) trigger warning was when Mum or Dad would say: “If you don’t stop cleaning and tidying your bedroom and get downstairs Allan, you’ll miss the Roy Rogers show, it’s just started.”

Roy Rogers was King of the cowboys, and had a horse called (TW) Trigger and a dog called Bullet; he sung many a Western song, not least, ‘Don’t Fence Me In’, and he was one of my early day heroes.

So, now my sensitivities have finally kicked in, I can no longer watch ’Only Fools and Horses’ without being consumed with guilt, especially whenever (TW) Trigger appears. A road sweeper by profession, (TW) Trigger regularly brags about his everlasting broom, with its 14 new heads and five new shafts and always calls Rodney, ‘Dave’. (TW) Trigger got his nickname because his mates down the Nag’s Head cruelly likened his facial features and hair style to that of Roy Roger’s horse.

Whilst once this would have caused me much mirth, today I realise that some nicknames can be grossly offensive, especially likening people to animals or insects, and many unsolicited nicknames are now recognised as having the potential to (TW) trigger sustained distress in many sensitive young people... as well as my old mate Slug.

Giving people nicknames based on some physical feature or geographical association is now considered very last century. Imagine calling someone who is 6’9” tall ‘Daddy Long Legs’. I mean would you call Tyson Fury ‘Daddy Long Legs’, I think not, well not in his hearing anyway. Or imagine someone with a cute little button nose and calling them Peppa, or calling someone Paddy just because they hail from The Emerald Isles, especially if their new name is Colleen. The good news is that this antediluvian practice of offensive nicknames will gradually become a thing of the past as we finally erase any sense of banter, irreverence and humour from our increasingly tolerant, sensitive and caring society.

(Content notes: the following paragraph contains words and concepts that may disturb).

Anyway, moving on, I thought you would be delighted to know that I have read the 437 pages of (TW) Rutland County Council’s new (TW) ‘Parking Policy’. This document is now out for public consultation, so if you wish to read it as well, I suggest you cancel the weekend away you were looking forward to, find a comfy chair and prepare not only to be anaesthetised by all the proposals, but also confused by the mathematics. Data from the recent (TW) ‘Vision for Rutland’ consultation found 28 per cent of respondents thought (TW) local parking costs reasonable, 37 per cent thought they were too expensive and the remaining 37 per cent didn’t care. I just hope whoever is responsible for these statistics is kept well clear of calculating my (TWTWTW) council tax.

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