The Unexpected Hits You Between The Eyes

Gordon Brown on ‘surprise‘ visit to Afghanistan. Because he is a spontaneous individual, make no mistake.

Does anyone get real surprises these days? I can’t remember the last time anything happened where I immediately thought, ‘well I certainly wasn’t expecting that to happen’.

The problem with surprises is that it is as though the realm of the possible has contracted. British troops get captured by Iranians. Is it that a surprise? Maybe it would be if they had been captured while watching Norwich City playing at home. To be captured while sailing in an area where no agreed maritime boundary exists between Iraq and Iran is not all that surprising.

Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be any surprises in everyday life these days. I was out for dinner in a restaurant last Saturday night, and there was a ‘surprise’ birthday party being held for someone at a few of the other tables. The birthday celebrant came in, saw all her friends and family there proudly assembled, and I watched her as she briefly tried her best to feign surprise. The lack of surprise was almost gloomy.

Even most nasty surprises aren’t really all that much of a surprise. Bad things happen, but they happen within a rather narrow set of possibilities. It would be a nasty and authentic surprise to get mauled by a polar bear when you open your fridge, but to fall ill to some common disease, while certainly nasty, is only a ‘surprise’ because you haven’t entertained the possibility of it happening. In the case of a polar bear ripping you to shreds in your own kitchen, the idea is unlikely to ever have crossed your mind, since it lies well beyond the realm of reasonable probability.

For most of us, with the exception of politicians and debt collectors, even surprise visits are out of the question these days, due to matters of protocol. If you call in on people unannounced, it is because you are fairly sure that they a) will be there; b) they will not have made other plans; and c) they will be happy to see you. And if you can be sure of all three, then you can also be pretty sure that your visit won’t be that much of a surprise at all.

Perhaps it was ever thus.

2 Responses to “The Unexpected Hits You Between The Eyes”


  1. 1 hughgreen March 30, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    As if to illustrate the point, this is the second time I have used this title.


  1. 1 Dublin Opinion » Blog Archive » Letters From Iran Trackback on March 30, 2007 at 3:39 pm

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