MADAME GUILLOTINE: Never assume anything

Avril Millar explains why making decisions without knowing the full story can spell disaster - or awkward social interactions, at least.

by Avril Millar
Last Updated: 17 Sep 2013

So, there I was on Saturday, in Tesco, still in gym kit five hours after I had cycled back from said gym. I had a weekend of chores to do and frankly couldn’t be bothered to change  - but the chance to get to Tesco for a big shop in a friend’s car - without a bike, basket in front, panniers behind and courier bag strapped to me  - was irresistible. 

I don’t have a car any more as I live in West Kensington and am so near everything it makes no sense. That, plus I used to really resent looking out of the window at my car costing me money just sitting there. If I’m going to waste money I can think of several more fun ways of doing it. But if I need big heavy things, my centre of gravity shifts inexorably upwards and makes a return trip a ride of death with the merest hint of a pothole likely to careen me into the path of passing lorries.

Now happily trawling the aisles (it’s amazing how a big supermarket trip can seem like a day out in my position), my phone was chirping off its metaphorical hook. Texts were coming in a rate of knots from all sorts of people, some known and dear, some just known,  and some probably known (well, they had my personal number but that’s not rocket science as it’s on my website) but not stored and therefore  nameless. 

The reason for this flurry of attention was that it was Stage 14 of the Tour de France and my son, cyclist David Millar, was off with the break, and it looked like he might repeat last year’s Stage win. He didn’t - but it was a valiant effort and it got his friends and fans into a frenzy of interest. Once they knew I wasn’t at home glued to Eurosport (I can’t bear to watch so much these days, especially when I know he’ll be trying for a win) everyone – and I mean everyone – decided to keep me up to date with minute by minute commentary and questions.

All of which explains why, when invited to a garden barbecue by someone I knew through work but had never visited before, I thought I might as well go. It was sunny, it was full of cycling enthusiasts and I’d catch the end of the Stage. What’s not to like? He had only put his first name and the initial of his surname but I knew who it was. So I got home, changed, scooped up the neighbour whose car I had purloined and we drove off to said event.

It was, all in all, a nice proposed end to what had been a fairly dreary day of chores and discipline surrounded by sun and cheery families. And even though I am not drinking just now, a late afternoon in a garden with convivial company would be pleasant. The fact that I mused very briefly to my neighbour, jokingly, that I hoped it was who I thought it was drifted out of my head as fast as it had drifted in.

So you might be able to imagine what it felt like when the door was opened not be the person I assumed I was visiting but by someone else altogether – who I barely knew and had met only once. It was a surprise I pulled off – just – apart from mouthing to my friend that this is not who I expected. To be fair, she threw herself into it with passion and he was, I think, none the wiser.And the moral of this little story? If there is one at all, it’s that we tend to make up our minds about things based on what we cobble together as ‘data gathering’.

A bit of knowledge (I knew someone with the almost exact name and certainly the same initials); a common affiliation between me, the expected host and the unexpected one (cycling) and a general tendency to continue to believe what we originally believe; and, most importantly, a blissful disregard for gut instinct combined with acute embarrassment to admit uncertainty.

So, this was not a serious situation. Indeed, it has already moved into the ‘hilarious tales of summer 2013’ catalogue. But it has reminded me that I probably ought to tune in a bit better and definitely ought to ask questions, even if they seem silly. Just in case next time it’s someone I don’t like.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today