One of the odd facts about writers is that we are, by default, listeners and watchers of other people. I know I am not alone when I say there is nothing I like quite so much as hearing bits of conversations and inventing their context. Or sitting in a café window and watching people pass while I speculate about their lives. So here are a couple of my ‘listening memories’, just for fun.
I’m lying on a bed, my husband beside me, snoring softly. It is the middle of the afternoon and we, in middle age, are in need of an afternoon nap. Only trouble is I can’t sleep – this is mostly due to the unusualness of the situation. We are on a narrow boat and just a few feet from our heads people (and many dogs) walk the tow-path. On the canal side, boats chug past. I catch glimpses between the curtains – hire boat, live-aboard on the move, working boat. Seasoned canal users go slowly and our narrow boat gently bobs, whereas the too-fast newbies (hirer-boaters mostly) make us creak and groan, straining on the mooring ropes, kitchen crockery clacking in irritation. The canal traffic is light and in between, I hear snatches of conversation from the walkers. The curtains on this side are tightly drawn and I cannot see the speakers, but from their tone and conversation it is surprisingly easy to guess their ages.
‘So what does your Dad do?’
‘Three days at…’ This from a young couple on a first date, I think.
‘Did you look at the bread?’ middle agers discussing the shopping list.
‘Just think, we used to find this all so unusual but we live here now,’ young and just moved into the area I guess. Resting by a tow-path is not the ideal location for the would-be eavesdropper – folk walk past too quickly, and the snippets heard are too small to have any context. The best places are when the listener and the speaker are in the same place or moving in the same direction as oneself. Then whole chunks of conversation can be enjoyed. Sometimes I note them down if they are particularly funny or poignant, but the good stuff sticks in my mind, anyway.
In the summer, Paul and I took a brief trip from where we live to Hurst Spit, which is a great place to watch yachts racing around the Isle of Wight. It was a super day – sunny, windy and as we joined the throng walking toward the beach, it was interesting to listen to the surrounding chatter. Lots of very posh children asking about their daddies on the yachts. Lots of weather, wind speed, picnic related chat as you can imagine and then…
‘Such a large rosette I couldn’t think how such an ugly dog could have won anything,’ said Mrs Loud-and-Posh. ‘So I went up to her, and I said, “Your dog is so ugly what on earth did he win?” And she said, “Oh, he won the sausage-snaffling competition!”’
Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. Happy writing. Happy listening.