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Seething civility

mrs-doyle-on-event-managementHere's a terrific excerpt from One Million Tiny Plays About Britain by Craig Taylor.  It was a Guardian column that sadly was never allowed to reach its goal...


Two old women finish their tea at a cafe in Lichfield. One holds the bill...

Anna Oh, you. Now don't be so utterly ridiculous.

Eva I insist. I insist, my dear.

Anna Absolutely not and I won't hear another word from silly old you.

Eva Well, I won't hand it over.

Anna You give it to me right now.

Eva I won't. I won't, and that's the end of it.

Anna I can't have you paying for this, can I?

Eva You paid for the last tea.

Anna And that was nearly a year ago, silly.

Eva Exactly. Just put that wallet away now, you troublemaker.

Anna That's enough. Give it to me.

Eva I'm going to pay and that's that.

Anna Then I'm putting some money in your purse.

Eva You're going nowhere near my purse.

Anna I need to say thank you.

Eva Then a simple thank you's enough.

Anna You know how I feel about this, dear.

Eva Well, fair is fair.

Anna I don't believe it is fair, if you don't mind.

Eva Then you can take me out for a nice meal next time, can't you?

Anna This is my treat.

Eva It is completely my treat and I want to pay. The end.

Anna No. [Pause]

Eva Now sit down. I'm just going to put it on my credit card and we'll go on with our lovely afternoon.

Anna Tell me how much it is.

Eva And we'll see the dahlias out in Biddulph.

Anna I'll sit right here then. I'll just sit.

Eva Well, you're being silly.

Anna You're being silly.

Eva I don't want your money. A simple thank you is fine.

Anna I'd like to give you some money.

Eva Just say thank you now. Just say it.


The anger is palpable.

And notice that their civility isn't actually a cover for their rage - it is precisely the vehicle for it.  Far from hiding their hostility, their manners are the menacing thing.  They will kill each other with 'kindness.'

But what is this 'kindness' that they hurl at each other?

'Fair is fair.' 'I want to pay.' 'I don't want your money.'

They may as well say 'I don't want your friendship.'  For what friendship is founded on 'fairness' and 'payment'?  No these are not the words of friends.  And this is not a demonstration of good manners.  Here their manners are weapons.  And they destroy themselves and each other by them.

What is the essence of this 'friendship'?  What throbs away at the heart of this 'civility'?   It is their refusal to receive in gratitude.  The turning of gift into duty.  A determination to achieve what can only be given.

And by this mentality, however cultured, they despise the gratuity of God's little pleasures and they despise each other.  Here is the clenched fist in the presence of grace.  It is the deepest perversion of all our natures.

And it's all amply illustrated by two old ladies in a tea shop.


0 thoughts on “Seething civility

  1. Heather

    This brought to mind:

    Because you did not serve Jehovah your God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things;...

    Seems a theme throughout scripture is man's inherent lack of that "attitude of gratitude" we ought to display toward the Lord and others who would do a kindness for us.

    I've often thought that our need to learn thankfulness is one reason we are "here".

  2. Si

    Sadly the video is blocked in England - it's from the Father Ted series 3 episode "The Mainland" - you can watch the whole thing (with adverts) on 4oD or SeeSaw.

  3. Tim Cairns

    Hey Si

    It is series 3 ep 4 the one with Richard Wilson (I have recently been watching old re-runs of one foot in the grave on PBS over here - Tuesday nights 7.30pm North Americans - quality)

    Sorry it is blocked for you guys but it is the scene when Mrs Doyle and her friend fight over paying a tea shop bill

  4. Si

    Tim - no worries, I found it (and said where it was) and the video being blocked gave me an excuse to watch the whole episode.

    Does the youtube video have the bit where their are in the cell and they fight over who will pay the possible fine?

  5. Tim Cairns


    sadly not! its just the 1 minute 24 seconds that we see them in the tea shop

    I'm glad I gave you an excuse to watch Father Ted!!


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