I met Bob and Carol in the visitors book of a nondescript free to enter museum in Dubrovnik one wet afternoon many years ago. We were only there for few minutes whilst the weather sorted itself out, and it was cheaper than having to pay for an overpriced coffee in a swanky cafe.
Filled with a random selection of items that had somehow found themselves inexplicably drawn together like a ball of lint in a bellybutton the place felt like someone with a hoarding disorder had accidentally left their garage doors open, and some people had wandered in out of the rain. If you’d ask me to remember any of the items on display, like the game you play with a tray of knick-knacks and a tea towel, I would struggle. Fifteen years later the only memory I have of that museum is an inscription we read in the visitors book.
“Quite Frankly we were Disappointed” – Bob and Carol from Somerset.
I often think back to that damning assessment of the museum. Did Bob pen those words in fury, egged on by Carol, or did she herself turn back and hastily scribble them after they had left? Maybe they discussed the review they would write in the few minutes it took to view the entirety of the collection, or maybe it was an impulsive action upon finding the open book near the exit and they never thought about it again. Perhaps they went home and told their friends – “How was Dubrovnik Carol?” “Oh it was lovely. Wasn’t it Bob, beautiful. Shame about that museum we visited though, very disappointing.”
I also wonder how the proprietor of this little museum in Croatia received their written criticism. Did he or she lay in bed that night thinking about what they could do to make the exhibition less disappointing? Maybe they did, maybe they have made it their life’s work to improve the museum based on this feedback. They might have transformed it into a palace of interesting and glittering delights, or at the very least changed some of the light bulbs and given it a once over with a duster. But I doubt it.
Inspired by this strange visitors book inscription, and intrigued by the impact it might have on others who might read it, I took it upon myself to share Bob and Carol’s words with a wider audience. In the visitors books of museums, art galleries, cafe’s, churches and all manner of places all over the world, the voice of Bob and Carol lives on – their eternal disappointment, names and county of origin carefully penned in my own hand. I’m sure they’d be proud, if they knew.
I imagine Bob and Carol might be the kind of people that would always respond to the question “Is everything ok with your meal?” in the affirmative. Carol might smile and bring the fork to her lips to avoid speaking whilst Bob would nod and hoist his glass of (second cheapest wine on the menu) Shiraz blend in a faux cheers and then take a sip. Yet before the night was out, they’d be venting their anger of the cold salmon and delay getting the bread by collectively carving out a scathing review onto Trip Advisor. An angry graffiti sprayed onto the walls of the internet, a lone star score cementing their disappointment for all to see.
I think there is a touch of Bob and Carol in us all. Sometimes it is easier to not complain, to keep that feeling of discontent bottled up than to create a fuss or face a confrontational situation, it’s less hassle. It’s much easier to be critical from behind a protective layer of time and distance than it is to do so in person.
On Saturday, a quarter of a million people marched the streets of London from the Bank of England to the Houses of Parliament to express their disappointment at the proposed cuts to welfare that the newly elected government is intending to implement. I wasn’t there, I bet Bob and Carol weren’t either. I’m pretty sure I’ve ticked a box or two on online campaigns to indicate my displeasure at the fiscal management of the Conservatives, amongst the boxes that I have ticked about orangutans and elephants and people being held captive illegally. But I haven’t actually got off my arse and physically demonstrated my point of view. I’m pretty active about my box ticking, but am I really doing anything more useful than signing the visitors book?
It’s almost too easy to give feedback these days, anyone can sit at a computer and write a Bob and Carol type review of something they are unhappy with, be that a restaurant, hotel or government policy. I’m doing it right now. I wish I had been part of that collective that took it upon themselves to step away from their computers, from their Trip advisors, from their visitors books, and walk the streets of London waving placards, peacefully yet proactively getting their message of unhappiness across.
I hope in this time of enforced and unnecessary austerity we are going to see a lot more of this active citizens approach to complaint, a more assertive method of airing our grievances. I hope people will be inspired and more confident to complain about the inequalities that are becoming more commonplace. I hope people will be brave enough to stand up and being counted, expressing their views towards a government that doesn’t seem to care, a ruling party that somehow won the election by a majority despite seventy-six percent of the (voting age) population not actually voting for them. I think if the next fifty-nine months of Tory rule continue in the same way the first has, then we might have no option but to take to the streets.
I hope that there is an opportunity for me to take part in an arranged demonstration the next time I am back in the UK, as I’d like to be a lot less like Bob and Carol than I currently am. So if you find yourself watching BBC footage of a demo in late August early September, keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the one holding a placard that in large clear letters proudly proclaims:
I am disappointed.”
Or better still, bring your own, we can march together on behalf of Bob and Carol from Somerset.