Of high heels and trivia

I’ve been musing on Parkinson’s Law. Not the famous one (“work expands to fill the time available”) but another from the same book: Parkinson’s Law of Triviality.  “The time spent on any item on the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.”  (If you’re wondering what this has to do with high heels, fear not: we’ll get there in a moment.)

Spine of Parkinsons Law book

Here it is in action, in a chapter called “High Finance”. A group of men – this was 1957, remember – meet to approve spending plans. The items on the agenda are:

  1. An atomic reactor. Cost: £10,000,000. Most of the committee don’t know enough about atomic reactors to have an opinion, and some don’t even know what one is, so they keep quiet. Of the two people who do know about atomic reactors, one suggests they should change the expensive consultants already employed and go back to the drawing-board.  The other is so daunted by the prospect of having to explain everything to everybody that he decides not to comment. Agreed spending: £10,000,000. Time taken – two and a half minutes.

2. A bicycle shed. Cost: £350. Several members who kept silent because they knew nothing about atomic reactors now feel that they should start pulling their weight. “A sum of £350 is well within everybody’s comprehension. Everyone can visualise a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some £50.”

3. Refreshments at meetings. Cost: £21 a year. “Now begins an even more acrimonious debate… every man there knows about coffee – what it is, how it should be made, where it should be bought – and whether indeed it should be bought at all. This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a quarter…”

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality was a great comfort to me when I had a job recording the minutes of committee meetings, but only recently did I see its application in a wider sphere. And this is where the high heels come in.

I have to admit to being something of a Facebook addict, and as anyone else on Facebook will know, the political storms over recent months have resulted in furious postings from all sides.  Sensible questions, valid warnings and the sharing of genuine news have often been drowned out by the sound of name-calling, and discussions have frequently descended into bitter squabbles involving CAPITAL LETTERS and ‘unfriending’.  Sometimes I feel there are crowds of people shouting at each other in my living room.

Pale blue suede women's shoes
We’re nearly at the shoes now.

Have I backed away? Of course not. It’s gripping stuff, and it affects all of us. Many of the fundamental assumptions of Western society have been called into question. People are passionate because this matters. I have enormous respect for my articulate, clear-sighted, committed friends and am grateful to them for keeping me up to date. But have I contributed much to the debate? Er… no. Even though Downie Towers has rung to the sound of my ranting in the kitchen, and the number of comments I have started to type and then deleted would fill a small book.

I feel as though I should contribute. One should do one’s bit. So I click ‘like’ on things that I, er, like, and occasionally manage to get the end of a comment and press ‘post’. In the real world, I vote. Sometimes I sign petitions. I write to my MP. I have even been known to march through the streets in support of a good cause. But I tend not to engage in debate with strangers on the Internet. Like the atomic reactor, I feel the cut and thrust of “live” political debate is beyond me.  Some people may feel I should speak up. More people may feel there are plenty of opinions on the Internet already.

And yet I feel I should do… something. Say something about something. So when this came up on the BBC website, I found myself latching onto it like a drowning sailor with a lifebelt. At last, a subject I fully understood. I am, after all, the woman who once broke a bone in her foot by falling off her own shoes. I am the woman who tottered around in agony at her son’s wedding because she had found the perfect pair of shoes but didn’t have the perfect pair of feet. Don’t get into an argument with me about the merits of forcing women to wear high heels, because you will lose. Yes! At last, something I could post on Facebook!

Until I did. And then I looked at it, and thought, dear lord. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and you’re posting about shoes. I deleted it, and wondered what was the matter with me. Then I realised. It was Parkinson’s Law of Triviality in action.

Friends, please feel free to comment. But anything political will be deleted. Apparently I can’t cope.



22 thoughts on “Of high heels and trivia

  1. Shoes are as good a distraction as any to this world run amuck. My distraction is scones and novels set in the distant past (a minimum of two hundred years–the Victorian era even seems too close).

    I live in the U.S. Any questions?

  2. This was hysterically funny!! I’m with you. Less atomic reactors and more bicycles. Cheers Ruth!!


  3. Ah Ruth…
    I was a local councillor for 12 yr….
    I recall spending 2 minutes debating cuts of £12M in 1995 to 1997
    But when we got to debating a wee local hall with one part time employee and a cut of £20 thousand we went on for almost 2 hours…
    What would Tilla say

  4. Very funny. Speaking of appropriate distractions, Vita Brevis has been out for … well, long enough that I’ve read it. You are busy on the next one, please tell me there is another in the works.

    Thanks for all you do, Beth

    1. Hi Beth. Yes indeed, the next one has now come back from the editor with suggestions for improvements (like making the plot work). Probably won’t be out until early next year I’m afraid, not only because of the improvements but because of all the mysterious things publishers have to do. When it does it’ll be set in Aquae Sulis (Bath).

  5. This post made me laugh out loud, so many meetings I’ve been to over the years… 🙂 Love the piccie of the shoes too, they are the very shoes I have often admired online but since I have narrow feet I have to try shoes on before buying! Oh and many years ago when I was a toddler my mum broke a bone in her ankle by falling off her own shoes! So this post rang a lot of bells with me 🙂

    1. Ouch, your Mum’s accident sounds even worse than mine. How often the buying of posh shoes demonstrates the triumph of hope over experience!

  6. “I am the woman who tottered around in agony at her son’s wedding because she had found the perfect pair of shoes but didn’t have the perfect pair of feet.
    Exactly! Couldn’t put it any more accurately! All that weight on one’s forefoot – like a horse!

  7. OMG… I thought I was the only person who has fallen off her shoes and broken an arm. In my defence… it was the 1970s… platform shoes were required…. an other substances were involved. So whenever anyone talks about drinking and driving I have to think… heck… drinking and walking can be dangerous too!

      1. Platform shoes were a great boon to me, adding vital inches to my vertically challenged self whilst being slightly more comfy and slightly less likely than high heels to cause damage when teetering off them. I was sorry when they went out of fashion, the 1970s being famously the Decade That Style Forgot.

  8. Dear Ruth et al. I will glide right over politics and world affairs-too painful to contemplate at the moment-shudder. But SHOES! Ah yes, I also do not have perfect feet. They are wiiide and thick by somebody’s standards. I look in the stores and my internal dialog goes “nope, heel too high, toes too pointed, straps around ankles will no doubt make me fall and join the fractured ladies and boots that come way up to THERE”. And now I have seen everything and bought nothing. AND here in the USA it seems we have a serious shortage of leather-all used on living room furniture and large handbags. Shoes are made of something else. But I do like scones, yes I do! I will focus on scones until politics and shoe styles change. I am cheered by the hopeful return to “Mom Jeans”. My crotch will celebrate when no longer callused. I know that those who choose styles will one day be punished.
    Sorry this is so long, I always talk too much!
    ALMOST deleted this but made myself not!

    1. Well! I didn’t even know Mom Jeans were a thing, so I’ve had to look them up. But despite not knowing what they were I appear to be wearing them. Thanks for the education, Lynda! 🙂

  9. Mom Jeans once to be scorned are now the IN THING! I saw a picture of Malia Obama wearing a pair. Of course she is only “this big” and if not for a large leather belt they would have been around her ankles. Ah once so young and so cute that everything was wearable. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.