Over the years I have proudly developed the invaluable skill of nodding knowingly whilst someone explains something that I have not the faintest idea about. You must have been there yourself, the subtle social art of giving off signals that you get what it being said to you whilst hoping to gleam a little something that prevents you from looking completely dim.

This skill became even more defined last year when a year-long problem with our drains in the garden meant that someone else’s sewage from a completely different road was seeping into the garden.

A multitude of engineers from different utility companies explained to me in detail, some using laptops, some using long poles they stuck in their ear (I kid you not), how it wasn’t their responsibility, before someone else would then explain just as convincingly how I needed to go back and tell them it was.  I learned more about how drainage systems worked from people employing little more than experienced guesswork than you could shake a stick – or even a long pole – at.

Many theories were thrown out as to where the problem originated from, most sounding more than feasible to my uninitiated ears, that took me down a cul-de-sac of solutions that in turn led me right back to where I began. At each point I nodded and made the right signs that I grasped enough of the gist to give them, and more importantly myself, a level of credibility. 90% of those qualified theories were however, about as worthless as the stuff seeping slowly into my garden.

One particular gentleman, who worked independently and had hands the size of a small country took me through the history of drainage systems from the last 200 years and still couldn’t come up with a solution. And to his credit, he tried. My lasting memory was him digging a hole in the garden to prove to me how the water table had risen when I assured him it hadn’t, and being thrown completely when he came up with nothing but dry earth. The poor man, who clearly had a lifetime of experience in drainage systems, slinked away to revaluate his life.

Another poor engineer was temporarily blinded and hospitalised when a faulty valve on a suction tank resulted in excrement being propelled at him at close range at a force strong enough to knock him to the ground. His deepest injuries however came at the expense of his colleagues jibes of amusement.

Finally, more than a year after reporting the initial problem, an army of engineers using high tech equipment, spades and mini-diggers, isolated the problem (believe me, you don’t want to know the problem), dug huge holes and inserted three manhole systems.

The experience left me with the realisation that most of us know a little something about a lot of things, and we pretty much wing the rest of it. Even those who are trained and qualified in a certain area fill in a lot of gaps with guess work.

So I am quite happy to keep on nodding in what I deem to be the appropriate places, and to remain blissfully ignorant most of the time. Everyone’s doing it. It’s only when we think we have all the answers, that we truly end up looking silly.


  1. What a horrible problem to have on a loop. I’ve had my fair share of these ‘loop’ problems where you seem to go around in circles while nodding your head at what people tell you, but nothing quite as messy as dealing with a drainage problem. I hope it’s all on its way to getting fixed now, Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it’s fixed thanks Hugh, though sometimes when the wind is in the right direction and I’m gardening nearby I swear something ‘fragrant’ hangs in the air for just a few seconds. Put it this way, if this was a film, a sequel wouldn’t be far away….

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  2. I’m nodding as I am reading this, Paul, and watching torrential rain outside of my writing den window. A 200 year history of drainage systems sounds like the next bestseller. On a serious note, when did our utility companies develop this expertise of, ‘I can tell you what it is, but it’s not my problem.’ Hope you get the problem solved and I look forward to reading the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s the confidence with which they tell you it’s not their problem Davy, you have no reason not to doubt someone like that. Especially when they’ve turned up in the dark with a machine with tanks and huge corrugated pipes, all lit up in the dark like something from a Stephen King novel…

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  3. I do a lot of nodding when some tech person is explaining new technology to me. They have no idea I’m not grasping 75% of what they’re telling me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re doing well grasping 25%! I was on a call on Friday were 7 tech people, 5 based in India, were on the line trying to sort a log-in problem I was having at work. You can guess I was the least involved in that conversation, just the occasional ‘uh-huh’, the phone call version of the clueless nod!

      Liked by 1 person

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