All I learned at School/Was how to Bend/Not Break the Rules

That is a lie, by the way, from a personal point of view, but seemed an appropriate title this week. Rules are divisive things, even just taken from a personal perspective. In general I am in favour and not a rule breaker by nature, but I do sometimes take the Madness inspired route of bending them if they have the appropriate level of flex (which many do, if you look hard/creatively enough). Some of them are more important than others, and some of them more relevant than others. Unfortunately, many of the rule I come across professionally are largely there because organisations have abrogated responsibility or introduced rules for political (I mean this in the most generic sense) or emotional reasons, often under pressure, and therefore are often poorly thought out (if thought was used at all). Even when they have logical or technical justification, rules need revision and updating, and that process, should it exist at all, almost always lag the changing environment in which those rules are supposed to operate.

Rules are at the top of my mind now after a bit of an encounter while volunteering at the weekend. The house that I am a room guide for was partially closed for an event, which is an unfortunate necessity at times. Most visitors (and us volunteers) take this stoically but there are always a few that feel they are owed more. This time I was approached by a man of a certain age, with wild white hair and a jacket, adopting an appearance I would probably describe as ‘tousled’. After looking meaningfully at my name badge, he fixed me with an icy blue-eyed stare (which I can only assume he though was intimidating based on what came out his mouth) and challenged me as to why I could not at least take his wife around the closed area of the house, you know, no one would know.

I apologised, and told him that was not possible – I was under strict instruction that the area was closed.

‘So you’re doing it by the book,’ he sneered.

I just looked at him.

‘Yes. Apologies.’

At this point he marched off in the huff muttering – in that way that you know they want you to hear –

‘Typical British Civil Servant attitude…’

Which amused me immensely for various reasons.

The sad thing is if he had not tried to intimidate me I might have tried to find a solution for him, although, in this case I was under clear orders.

I’d contrast this to a few years ago, when while on duty I ended up talking to couple in their 90s. they were on, they told me, their ‘farewell tour’, in the process of visiting touchstones from their childhoods while they were still fit enough to do so. The lady concerned had often come to the house when she was a child, as her parents were friends of the caretaker at the time. She told me that her main memories involved playing in the tunnels (two access tunnels run the length of the house, giving access for servants from the servant wing to the staterooms) and cellars – as she put it, ‘running about in the pitch black and screaming a lot’.

The tunnels are not open to the public, but then again I not been told to never show them to someone who might have a specific interest. It was a quiet day, so I asked if she would like to see if it was as she remembered. So, I helped her down the stairs into the tunnels. Afterwards, she was on the verge of tears, and thanked me profusely – it was as she remembered, albeit now well lit, and for a moment she has been 12 again.

I think to deliberately break a rule is, mostly, a bad idea. Bad rules need to be changed, not ignored. However, sometimes a bit of bending and creative interpretation might just be a good thing, if it can achieve some good.


Today’s Soundtrack: Charmless Man by Blur