In her wonderful book Watching the English, Kate Fox analyses the rules for conducting an English conversation. She notes the stock response to “How are you?”—“Mustn’t grumble”.
Bill Bailey ponders the reply “Not too bad—all things considered” in his show Limboland (currently on BBC iPlayer):
We’ve dialed down our expectations to an acceptable level of disappointment.
As to the more expansive reply “Not too bad—all things considered”, Bill’s list of “things” to which these Brits must be referring includes
the Okovanga delta (the cradle of all life), the Alps, the genius of Mozart, the limpid minimalism of Arvo Pärt; those yogurts with a bit of fruit in the corner; all human artistic endeavour; pushing someone in a pond when they least expect it; wars, religion, ideology, a rose, the uncountable stars, the boundless universe; the opalescence that shimmers on the surface of a tear that wells up in a shepherd’s eye as he marvels at the beauty of yet another Patagonian sunrise…
“You considered that?”
“And how do you feel?”
“Not too bad.”
* * *
The variant “can’t complain” is the subject of a story in the Big red joke book:
Kovacs went to the police in Budapest and asked for a passport and permission to emigrate.
“And where do you want to emigrate to, Mr Kovacs?” asked the police superintendant.
“Aren’t you happy in Budapest?”
“I can’t grumble.”
“Don’t you have a good job here?”
“Don’t you have a pleasant enough life?”
“In that case, why do you want to emigrate to Holland?”
“Because there I can grumble.”
Talking of complaints, 116 people wrote to the BBC to complain that it was making it too easy to complain about the blanket coverage of Prince Philip’s death.
Cf. Hammer and Tickle (here and here), as well as Stewart Lee’s analysis of All things bright and beautiful. See also under The English, home and abroad. Among my favourites in the Bailey tag in the sidebar are