Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Conversation. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.


A sound system is being installed on the west coast of Ireland so that the sounds made by the dolphins can be heard on the Internet. Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation (SDWF), the project's pioneers, hope also to establish a dial-a-dolphin phone line allowing callers to tune in to the sea animals' conversations.

Presumably SWDF rather hope the phone line’s users will find it soothing to listen to the sound of dolphins communicating with each other. Perhaps those who log on have given up on the human voice as a source of comfort. If so, it’s sad. One piece of recent research suggested that one of the most calming and comforting experiences we can have is a random and good-natured conversation with a complete stranger.

The conversations we have today may naturally form part of our daily life or we may need to initiate them ourselves. They may be with people close to us or the result of a purely chance encounter. But let’s be grateful for their contribution to our enjoyment of life and peace of mind.


San Francisco today sees the celebration of St Stupid, patron saint of the First Church of the Last Laugh. A parade through the streets, with costume, confetti and lots of noise, followed by a free lunch marks 25 years since “Bishop” Joey first declared his creed. Stupidity, he suggests, is the one unifying bond between humanity, and in less cynical vein, goes on to encourage believers to recognise that there is so much we don’t know.

It’s often fear of seeming stupid that prevents us admitting our lack of knowledge. Perhaps we might pretend we had in fact heard that latest piece of gossip; perhaps we want to give the impression of being more confident in a decision than actually we are; perhaps there’s information relevant to our work of which we don’t want to admit ignorance. Saying “I don’t know” is not something that comes easily to anyone’s lips.

If few of us would adopt St Stupid as our patron saint, a willingness to risk looking stupid might be preferable to pretending to knowledge we don’t have. One danger with that is getting caught out in our deceit - at least being honest stops others having the Last Laugh.


Deceit has taken a more sinister turn now that mobiles have the ability to provide background noises designed to sound like where you are supposed to be. You can use roadwork noises to plead delay at that meeting you never intended to get to. Or, if you really want to indicate you can't talk now, you can be in a dentist's surgery.

You can also get rid of an unwanted caller by simulating the ring of another phone. There are times when we long to escape from the person who is talking to us, on the phone or in person. Their story may be too long-winded or their pain to difficult to bear; some more interesting person may be beckoning or time may simply be too short; we may simply be tired of not being able to get our word in. There is an art to extricating ourselves from such conversations and it can be done with a combination of gentleness and firmness, and perhaps a genuine promise to talk again later.

People often talk too much because they need the attention. They are used to people not being interested so they keep talking in case they lose you. Some will be quite used to simply being dumped in what they see as the middle of a conversation. What such people need is not confirmation of how boring they are but affirmation that they do matter and do deserve to be listened to.

At times when we are not able to offer that time and attentiveness, to make an excuse will simply confirm the talker in their feeling of worthlessness. The respect that is shown by an honest but polite moving on is more likely to create a feeling of being valued and to lead to the other gradually becoming less demanding.


Alistair Cooke, who wrote his letter from America for more than 50 years, retired earlier this week. In a letter about the development of television after the war, he told of a school survey asking children which they preferred and why - television or radio. One respondent was a 7-year-old boy who said he preferred radio "because the pictures were better."

The pictures in Alistair Cooke’s talks, just as in those of Lionel Blue (see yesterday’s thought) are, among other things, what made them such good listening. In ordinary life too, a good story told with visual detail can give a lot of pleasure. In many of our conversations, we exchange descriptions of things that have happened to us. Some are better than others with words but most people thoroughly enjoy telling or hearing a good yarn.

Perhaps today we might notice the pleasure we get from the pictures we hear. Some might be on the radio, but many more cause us to want to celebrate the delights of ordinary conversation.