Will the real “They Say” please step forward.
My first memory of you was when I was young. It was around the time that life was good, Saturday afternoons smelled of freshly mowed grass, and running around after dark was shrieking fun. I can vividly remember my mother saying, “They say that after laughter comes tears”. Shame on you! You spoilt all the pleasure as I was suddenly wary and suspicious, and all fun closed with a whimper.
From that moment forward I learned to expect the worst when you were mentioned. “They Say that if you swim within 1 hour of a meal you will sink and drown”. I must admit that I suspected that this was because my mother had been eyeing the bed for an afternoon shut eye and was reticent to have to stand to attention whilst we cavorted in chorine waters but seriously…’ sink and drown’ don’t you think that was excessive?
You infiltrated everywhere.
Soon it was apparent that you had infiltrated everywhere “They Say that if you buy oversized school uniform’s the child won’t outgrow them”. You were the reason I tripped over hems, battled to find my hands inside blazer sleeves, and struggled to see under an oversized straw basher. I also didn’t grow as fast as ‘them’ so had to endure the indignity for years before the uniform was thrown away. I still claim my dodgy eyesight is due to staring at the lining of a straw basher for most of my school life.
“They Say that when the summer is so wet, winter will be really cold” Ha! So suddenly you were also a weather expert and was the reason I had to drop out of winter camp because I would ‘catch my death of cold’. I had a sneaking suspicion that it was because we’d just moved to a new house and the camp would have burst the budget altogether. However, surely you could have been more creative than blaming it on the weather.
You even wriggled into Christmas.
And then there was the pièce de resistance, “They say that if you’re naughty Father Christmas won’t bring you any presents”. Seriously? Naughty How? Naughty as in let’s drop the side of our masks and whisper surreptitiously behind the cabbages and pumpkins in the refrigeration aisle? Naughty as in I’m going to flash my wobbly lock-down body on the beachfront on New Year’s Day or Naughty as in a South African politician with access to the COVID-19 relief fund.
And when did the dastardly act occur? Last week, yesterday, last winter, or now? So, every child who’s ever pulled the cat’s tail, whined for ice-cream or cut up the dining room curtains will fear that awful moment of isolation and humiliation. Picture the scene as the family cherubs delicately open mounds of perfectly wrapped tinsel boxes, whilst the accused sits alone and ‘present-less’ in the naughty corner. You should be had up for child abuse! I don’t care that Mom’s had enough of screaming, squabbling children and can’t be more innovative than to dredge up threats, it’s you she’s quoting so if the shoe fits….
You followed me into adulthood.
I recall being frazzled and stressed when my youngest announced that his school project, the one that was going to make or break his grades for the year, was due the next morning.
It was of course Sunday evening and well past bedtime for all of us. I thus worked diligently through the night whilst my nearest and dearest snored through their slumbers. At last, at the first break of dawn, as I glued the last star and dabbed the last blob of glitter, I heard the footsteps of the cause of the past 8 hours of work.
He quietly entered the room, stared over my shoulder, and as I smiled expecting a gasp of admiration, he quietly said, “They Say, you shouldn’t let your parents do your projects because then you don’t learn anything”. On that occasion you lied because he did learn something, in fact, he learned how to do extremely fast, long-distance running with his fingers in his ears to drown out the sound of furious bellows that echoed behind him.
A regular Mr Google.
As life passed you couldn’t resist giving advice on growing vegetables, politics, cooking, childbirth, and career guidance amongst many other obscure topics, and usually at a time I really didn’t need your interference. You turned out to be a regular Mr. Google but I realized that if ‘they’ didn’t have an identity, gender, or creed it was usually you.
But then your moment in the sun certainly dawned in 2020.
No-one had any facts nor really knew what was happening when covid-19 burst into our lives and you became the new reality for most of us. “They say, this is all just a conspiracy to close down the big business and give the government all the power” was one of numerous ‘they says’ that rushed like a Tsunami through social media. Our government’s always had all the power but yes it did give them an extra 500 billion Rand to plunder and dole out in tenders to one another, however, this was possibly just a stroke of good fortune for some of the politicians. It’s a little difficult to explain the 30 000+ related deaths and further million+ sick folk as a set-up in South Africa but not sure how the rest of the world stats can also be examined under the same microscope?
“They say it all started with a wayward bat in a wet market in Wutan or was it part of an undercover operation manufacturing viruses to destroy the world, based in a factory on Hainan Island?”
When a poor local bat decided to swoop past a few weeks into the drama, we didn’t even stop to enquire if it had Chinese relatives that had not written in a while, but all dived for cover under the nearest flowerpot.
And so, you got us all going, you whipped up a drama frenzy and drizzled ‘have you heard’s’ into every conversation until none of us were even sure of what was happening behind our neighbour’s mask let alone our own. Our fellow South Africans talked about swimming in unchartered territory which we soon learned meant ‘we have absolutely no idea what we are doing and nor do you’. These were glorious moments for you as you were on the lips of every man, woman, and child.
‘They say’s’ even crept into news broadcasts
“They say that this nightmare will only pass when we have a vaccine that works but who knows when that will be?” Oh, come on, get a grip, of course it will pass when there is an infallible vaccine but you’re the one whispering horrors of vaccines causing cabbage ears or 100 years of pimples.
My personal dilemma, an income derived purely from tourism, especially tourism up the Sani Pass, became a delight for you. Firstly, it was bad enough that people avoided me in supermarkets in case I nicked a toilet roll from their basket, but you danced on the centre stage by encouraging conversations peppered with mentions of your name. “They say that we’re not going to see tourism return to this country for years!” “They say that no-one is going to travel for fear of the virus”. “They say that tourism is finished” and so your juvenile pranks continue
You are a scurrilous charlatan.
However, 2020 has not only brought anxiety and panic but huge wisdom that you are a scurrilous charlatan seeking to cause instability with juicy and delectable titbits of false information.
You were born to cause anxiety, vulnerability, and concern and worm yourself as a seed of doubt into the most robust of judgments. You have, especially over the past year, been a destructive, untrustworthy source of dodgy information and I’m not dragging you with me into 2021. If the information cannot be underpinned by who says, instead of ‘they say’ and packed full of genuine facts and stats it’s not welcome on my 2021 wagon.
Tough to say Goodbye
You and I have had a tumultuous lifetime relationship and your name still rolls smoothly into my conversations therefore it’s tough to say goodbye. I’m joining up with your arch enemy, ‘Facts and Stats’, at least until this pandemic has fluttered and died. I will no longer listen to false information no matter how enticing.
Just once before I go into the new year without you hanging around my neck, I’d like to see you and look you in the eye so will the real ‘they say’ please step forward…