The world is divided into those who are adept at making a suitable retort and those who think of it three days later. The S&H has always fallen into the former category, I am usually in the latter, though one of the advantages of writing is that you can accommodate your instant witty comebacks within a more forgiving time frame. Some well-known television comedies have had entire rooms of writers working on one killer line for the principle character.
If you are a more normal conversationalist, concerned with what you are going to say and getting the words out there in one go, even trying to make a point, rather than just a noise, your only recourse may be learning some smart remarks to make in advance of the conversation. Retorts you can have to hand to produce as appositely as possible, with the flourish of a conjurer producing a duck from a beret.
Here are a few to learn, the exam is real life. This is the best time to have a go. We are about to be let loose in company, out of doors, in a howling gale, half a mile away from the person you are talking to, double masked while drinking a coffee through a straw. There could never be a better time to acquire a reputation as a wit, rather than a half-wit because come the late summer, we’ll all be banged up again. People will sit indoors through the autumn thinking fondly of you as the person who was able to say something frequently and you’ll be able to go back to spending all morning composing one email to send scattergun to the wrong list of people.
I am taking the initial remark from some of the very, very old television programmes currently available, mostly from the Sixties when the world was young and script writers were paid in pounds shillings and pence. There is a certain stilted quality to the utterances, mostly from fairly wooden actors (some may have been actual puppets, our telly is on the blink currently and no one will enter the house to give it a kick) unsure of which of the two cameras to fire their lines at.
Here we go, make notes if you wish. The first remark is from the TV, the second is your killer retort.
Make your point, I have a tight schedule!
I thought there was something wrong with you…… it’s the way you’re walking. Try to sit down. No, maybe not.
Leave the money in an unmarked suitcase in the third locker from the left at St Pancras.
What type of suitcase? Can you be more specific? I need dimensions in millimetres. They have this cage thing, you know, if it doesn’t get in there, you’re out mate, no hand luggage for you. Well, I’m saying this, I can’t remember really, it’s so long since I was on a plane. And, also, are you sure unmarked is what you want? I think we used to tie balloons to ours, though they deflated in the hold, of course, but you could spot them on the carousel dead easy, one pink, one blue. Snatch yours first and you’re on the bus, window seats of your choice all the way to the hotel up in the mountains. Sea view, it was called. Well you could slightly, you had to put the dressing table stool by the bathroom window and stand on tip toe and there it was. Turquoise the sea was, turquoise, well if the mist didn’t come down and when there were no container ships in the harbour.. Oh it was great. A whole fortnight of sunburn and cheap sangria.
Open the safe, or the mermaid gets it!
But that’s it. I don’t think she does, does she? She’s not very bright and you can see the wires, well I can. Not the most convincing character ever.
I am going to count to ten……..
I’m not impressed. sorry. My grandchildren can count to ten in Welsh and English and the little one’s only four.
My men have wired the bomb to this hand-held device, all I have to do is press the button….
Oh well, good luck to you. I can’t get an electrician for love nor money. We’ve got dangling wires in the corridor, the light I was promised has been on some container ship, stuck somewhere for months. The PIR light over the drive, which used to light up for a sparrow three streets away, is down to one bulb. If you want it to work you have to wait until it’s pitch black and then jump up and down and wave the broom in front of it. As a burglar deterrent it’s rubbish. The website I bought it from has vanished and the fitting is European and needs a proper electrician because I’m not about to fuse myself to the National grid.
Quick – she’s going to blow.
Sitting on the settee for a year eating popcorn – are you surprised? Stand up wind and put an extra mask on would be my advice.
Look out he’s got a gun.
I think that’s highly unlikely, don’t you? I can’t even get the right type of toilet roll delivered. And don’t get me on to pies. We’ve ordered steak and ale three times now and not got it. We keep on getting chicken; I’m veggie and he won’t touch them. He says he’s all man, after a year of random pies, who’s going to argue? Not me. We had an incident in the corridor last week, stuck for a good ten minutes trying to squash past. It is true, I do have slight gluteal development I didn’t have before lockdown but it’s mainly his pie gut I’m blaming.
Jenkins, you take team B and climb the South face of the glacier.
I’m beginning to wonder if these old TV series are a good source of normal conversation. I can’t remember people saying this sort of thing to each other in groups, and, if they did, I’m not at all sure what an adequate reply might be. ‘OK see you at the top?’ ‘Last one up is a scaredy cat?’ ‘I’ll have one of those cones with a chocolate flake in it, if you get there first, please.’ Hmm, I’ll try a rerun of an old children’s magazine programme, that should have normal conversation in it.
In the studio today we’re lucky enough to have a tank full of terrapins.
Socially distanced, I hope. Actually, they’re not. They’re climbing all over each other. What sort of example is that to set to children? I might be better off watching current TV. Let’s see, what’s on? There’s a steaming romance in which a couple exchange glances from contiguous supermarket check-out aisles one apart and fall in love through the triple screen plastic and end up sending each other sperm and egg donations through the post but the donations end up at the zoo because the courier has a slight temperature so his friend does it for him so he keeps his job. The friend can’t map read, you see. Eventually the giraffe has a cross-species infant which is half giraffe, half interior decorator, which goes on to terrorise Wiltshire and parts of the Home Counties. Not much dialogue in that. How about this? It’s an astronomy programme with two brainy people talking indoors.
Directly above me, through my binoculars, Jonathan, I can see………….
The big light! Yes I can see it too, slightly to the left of that stain on the ceiling. And from where I’m sitting all three light bulbs are on.
Yes they are . They are definitely on, at perihelion if I’m not mistaken, which is wonderful because of course you cannot see them in day time.
Well, no, because I switch the light off.
Over at the wall switch there.
Yes, I see it now. Have you ever considered a dimmer switch?
I think that may be an example of real unscripted conversation. I was remembering actual conversation as being rather more sparkling than that. It’s a long time since I heard any. I did have a chat at the checkout last week. It went like this:
That wrapper is torn.
There’s another one inside.
It’s beginning to look as if, when we eventually meet people again (People – legs, arms, body in the middle, head on top, if memory serves) we might have to make our own conversation. You could try memorising the TV weather forecast and saying that. Used to be popular at bus stops long ago. I think. I’ll have one last go at the telly
Grasp the stuffing in your left hand and the chicken in your right….
That’s enough of that. I’m sorry, if you want witty repartee, you’ll just have to make your own up, while you are learning to juggle, or knitting, or basket weaving with your own hair or whatever it was people used to do when they met to talk.
JaneLaverick.com – a handy service for the nation.*
*Or not, as the case may be.