Reply all: a critique


A few months ago our road was all jammed up with holes because a new gas pipe was being fitted. After us, the whole high street was dug up, then the town next door which has a tube station. Now it is the turn of the village where the primary school is. In a village with no shops, there is now a three way traffic system. Add to this that enormous lorries and tractors seem to think that passing through the village at, say, 8.50am is a great idea and you have a recipe for traffic carnage in an otherwise quiet country spot way off the beaten track.

There we were the other day with one massive truck attempting to turn a corner into a backlog of traffic stuck at traffic light number two while little kids wove their way in and out in perilous fashion. At some point a school minivan attempted to pass, but there was a bottle bin just in front of the traffic light. It hit the bottles, but avoided the truck. The school run now takes somewhat longer and is slightly more stressful, not least because the road works go all the way up to the nearest adjoining town. Fortunately, the river which runs alongside the road has now subsided a bit because it had broken its banks earlier and threatened to swamp the road. The words school run do not really do justice to the pre-work routine. One day all movement outside the home will be just too much hassle.

On the up side, it gives me more time in the car with the kids and I have got to know an awful lot about the year one discipline process. “John was on red today. He did five really bad things so he had 15 minutes time out. I was on red, but it was ages ago,” began only son [it later turned out that it was the day before]. “I did four bad things, but most of them were because Kenan was being silly and shouted at me and I had to shout back, but Kenan didn’t get put on red. Daisy was on oops I made a mistake because she did one bad thing. Normally I’m on green and I’m not silly. Sometimes I’m on oops I made a mistake, but it’s ok. I love you so so much, mum.”

I feel that parents should have the option of ‘oops I made a mistake’ for those bad days when things go a bit wrong, but you didn’t screw up horrendously, for instance, when you accidentally hit reply all when you didn’t mean to. It sounds very forgiving to me. I am not a fan of ‘reply all’. It seems to have crept into common usage stealthily. Now every email has loads of people copied on it and you are not allowed to reply just to X, the one person in the chain who is actually relevant, in case all the others feel left out and then email you to find out if you actually got back to X. I’m not sure why I am averse to reply all. Maybe it’s because I prefer one to one communication where possible so you can be more personal and throw in the odd joke.

This is why I am not a fan of speaking to large groups. I have had some bad experiences in the past, for instance, I taught English in Spain once and decided it was a good idea to teach a class of prospective teachers to speak better English by getting them to listen to [and sing along with] Wake me up before you go-go by Wham! It was only when the song started that I realised it was not really the right song for prospective teachers and was extremely fast. They tried manfully to keep up and politely asked me what yo-yo meant as if it was some incredibly deep comment about life. On reflection, I should probably have stuck to Hey Jude or Yesterday in traditional fashion. As they say in year one, oops I made a mistake.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of

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