SOMETIMES it appears as if Britain is obsessed with apology. And not just apology but the contrite, grovelling, begging for forgiveness, sackcloth and ashes sort of apology that everyone from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to Bavarian radio seem to expect of Prince Harry.
He has, of course, already said "sorry" in a statement and admitted that his German desert garb complete with swastika was a poor choice of costume for a fancy dress party.
That is not enough for many people who want to make an example of him, who want to see him apologise "live" on TV and who demand that he be humiliated and dragged in shame round a tour of Auschwitz, no doubt pictured in gas chambers looking guilty.
I’m not surprised Prince Charles has rejected such a course of action. For one thing, children - even those of Harry’s age - need to know that while a parent may disapprove of what they’ve done and expect them to learn from mistakes, they won’t throw them to the wolves. Harry is well aware of his error and has told us so.
Only a cold, Victorian father (something Charles has been accused of being in the past) would subject their son to international ridicule and leave him feeling utterly rejected to boot.
There is also the small matter of whether an enforced televised apology, rather than a voluntary one, is worth the effort.
For most of us, television isn’t an option. And apologising remains blessedly a largely private matter. We accidentally bump into someone in the supermarket and we mutter "sorry" without even realising it, let alone meaning it.
As small children we quickly learn that adults will forgive almost anything if we learn to say "sorry" . . . until we grow older and atonement and reparation creep in as well.
As adults we become more inhibited about personal apologies, admitting we were wrong, and making ourselves vulnerable by asking for forgiveness. Sometimes we only do it to get out of a tricky situation. For the more arrogant, apologising is even more difficult, yet perhaps more meaningful than when it comes from the mousey sort of person who apologises too readily, too often.
There are sections of society who need to learn to apologise more - utility firms who take your money first and mess up your bill second, vandals and criminals, dodgy builders, and almost every company spokesman who has ever appeared on Watchdog.
And there are those who apologise too often, believing it to be an easy alternative to action or righting wrongs.
But apologising is just a procedure. Whether you whisper it, yell it through a megaphone or announce it on every TV channel doesn’t matter. What matters is the sincerity behind it.
An apology in itself changes nothing, just as punishment may be a Pavlov’s dog sort of deterrent but it doesn’t actually illustrate the error of one’s ways.
Appearing on TV or going to Auschwitz won’t make Harry any more sorry than he already is. It will only punish him.
There is still a great deal of bottled up vengeance in the world about the Holocaust - quite understandably. But it should not be directed at a boy, even a prince, who foolishly hired what is a "popular" fancy dress outfit (according to a Telegraph survey) without thinking it through. . . and then, quite properly and sincerely, apologised.
Salty 'n' shake as lesson's a howler
SALTY, our retired greyhound, packed up his schoolbag with his blanket, a toy, treats, a grooming mitt, collar and lead, and set off for his first class in obedience in a local church hall. I considered a collar and tie but thought that was going too far.
It got off to a good start. We were second to arrive and, within two minutes, Salty had peed prolifically in the teacher’s holdall. Being the sort of woman who obviously likes and forgives dogs, she was very understanding.
On to the walk-to-heel exercise. Salty tends to do this naturally anyway, so it was more of a lesson for Himself who, despite being highly sporty and active, isn’t what you’d call balletic. I watched them both making their way awkwardly across the hall (think John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks) and I couldn’t stop myself shouting: "Thank goodness we didn’t sign up for formation dancing!"
I had such a great time laughing from the sidelines that I had to remind myself that the teacher might be less understanding if a menopausal women had an accident on her floor.
The greyhound book does say: "Your greyhound is unlikely to win top prize at obedience class - more likely to be the comedy turn." Who cares? We’re having a ball.
Lack of communication taking its toll
I HAVE no idea whether I am eligible to vote in the congestion referendum so I e-mailed email@example.com as advised, to find out. That was a few days ago and I’m still waiting. Not even an auto reply so far. Hope is dwindling.
Recently, I tried to contact my local councillor. I rang the main switchboard and asked for her e-mail. "We don’t have e-mail addresses here," said the switchboard operator.
After searching, I came across the address in my "frequent contacts" list and whizzed off an enquiry about environmental tests relating to fireworks, a subject about which I new feel even more strongly since they give the dog a nervous breakdown.
That was a week ago. No reply, not even an auto-generated one.
I can only assume that the council has now given up all pretence at communicating with individual citizens in any form, let alone trying to give the impression of accountability. Would that we could ignore them as easily.