Hail Fellow Ill Met
A few weeks ago:
When we were going home on the bus, I was writing a message to Mum on our conversation notepad. An elderly man got on the bus and stood for a while, tucking his ticket away. I felt his eyes on me and looked up, and smiled. Then I went back to the message I was writing. Mum jerked her head towards him suddenly, and gestured apologetically, with a half-turn of her head towards me. I could imagine her saying, “I’m sorry, she can’t hear you.” He sat down across from us, where I couldn’t see him, and for the rest of the journey they talked politely, their voices lost in the roar of the bus. After a while I put my conversation notepad away, my message unread.
When we reached our stop and Mum moved towards the exit, I glanced at the man, intending to say goodbye. But he sat with his head turned away, so I said nothing. I didn’t ask Mum who he was or what they were talking about, and she didn’t mention him… he was just a passing ship.
Two days ago:
We were walking in single file along a narrow footpath, when we came across a bearded man on a ladder who was preparing to trim a hedge. He and Mum exchanged jolly-sounding greetings. Powered by her presence, I breezed past in my turn with a cheery smile. But I thought about how, on my own, I would either not look at him, or would raise my hand in a polite salute.
A little way further along, when we came onto the road, another man stood nearby. Again he and Mum made friendly noises. “People are so kind!” said Mum, as we passed on.
We went into Costa’s for coffee, but it was quite busy. All that was left for us was a small round table for two, wedged between a lady in the corner (reading a newspaper) and two gossiping boys. The woman looked up and smiled, and she and Mum talked for a little… I wondered if they knew each other. Then the lady went back to her newspaper, and Mum and I wrote to each other in our conversation notepad.
“It’s hotter than I thought,” said Mum. “Have you noticed that the students get younger every year?”
“I never looked,” I said.
Mum rolled her eyes good-naturedly, while I thought about the old man on the bus, along with years and years of students passing me by, unseen.
After a while I said, “You know why I don’t look at people? I don’t want them to think they can speak to me just because I smiled.”
Mum laughed and shook her head at me. “They don’t always — and don’t smile,” she said. “Just observe.”
A small mystery cleared up:
When we left, the woman reading the newspaper didn’t speak to us again — she was a stranger after all. But Mum later volunteered the information that she’d told us (when we came in looking for somewhere to sit) she’d been watching a single student taking up a table meant for four.
Oh, I so know the feeling! Especially when we are meeting my sister, and the three of us have to huddle (with two shopping trolleys) round a tiny table for two, while a skinny kid stretches out blissfully in a tasty piece of café ‘real estate’… and stays there forever.
Lady next to us — I share your frustration.
Found some of our recent ‘conversation notes’ which were waiting to go into the recycling bin:
Mum: A little baby tomato has been born!
Me: Tell the little baby tomatoes they don’t have much Summer left.
Mum: Better play some music to them.
Me: I saw someone in town carrying his SLR camera by the strap so that it dangled by his walking feet as he crossed the road. I can’t imagine being so casual with my cameras!
Me: I think the wallpaper site has a split personality — the ones who post pics and have fun (rather be kind than right) — and the ones who want more serious pictures with people saying “I would have cropped in closer and paid more attention to the rule of thirds.”
Mum: “What weird people.”
Me: “They’ve been to photography classes… they’ve been taught all that stuff.”
Mum: “Oh I see.”
Mum (looking misty): I played with Justin Rose once when he was a boy — perhaps 14.
Me: He still looks like a boy.
Me: I can’t stand cognitive behavioural therapy — and they’ve roped it into the Calorie Bible. “Are you really ready to do it? Have you thought about the implications of your decision?” Bleugh.
Mum: Serves you right for reading all the small print.
Today Mum asked, “what’s for supper?” and I said “there’s a little prawn cocktail in the fridge.”
“It’s too old.”
“Oh — I had some for lunch, and I’m not dead yet.”
“Lunch wasn’t long ago…. you might die later.”
“Oh, I suppose you’re right, I will die… but not for a few years yet.”
Still ticking away. 🙂
Going through a pile of paper… many of them scribbled notes from Mum to me or me to Mum. I’m chucking them out now, but here’s a selection:
There is a fancy moth on my car that came from Morrisons with me. I don’t know how it hung on.
The door bell rang at 2 am this morning. I didn’t quite realise what had wakened me till later.
Me: I know both those songs very well (Lonesome Cowboy and Southern Nights) and they’re not making sense to my ears on the CDs through there. I can only hear his voice if I strain — some CDs are like that.
Mum: Maybe the musical accompaniment is too loud.
The Samsara is a creamy, musky version of J Lo Live.
Me: He said it suddenly got dark.
Mum: I heard him.
The Duke of Edinburgh said one of the world’s major problems was the explosion of human population. It has reached plague proportions.
Does Samson [cat] feel he has to be somewhere at this time?
My hyacinth has gone like this: [doodle of a horizontal hyacinth].
The buildings look squint. The sky is ridiculous.
You are in the doghouse for not writing a Birthday Claus letter. Confucius he say “Who not write letter get rubbish.”
Me: Blender has whirly blades on it. (Handing over money).
Mum (gift-giver of above dangerous item): 30p Rec.
King Louie… is in the shop.
I’m reading this book on a big storm in Galveston, 1900; quite good. Saw a programme about hurricanes and stormchasers… and they chased Hurricane Ike to Galveston and filmed it there! Even mentioned the 1900 storm, and showed a photo of the aftermath. Made me understand why, in the book, they were talking about the sea hitting the house-stilts before the storm even got there. The houses are still on stilts!
There are plenty more where those came from…
Yesterday a friend was talking about having to sit through unwanted conversations, like when she politely asks someone about their holidays or how they are, and they give her a blow by blow response.
I said I was probably guilty of that in blogs and emails, and felt reassured it wasn’t just me. Then again, I was luckier than I realized, I said… I don’t have to sit through such speeches from other folk as I wouldn’t hear them very well. People have to restrict themselves to “hello, horrible weather! And what kind of cat is that? Look how he’s hugging the radiator. Are all these bears yours?”
“The only way I have to sit through long stories,” I said, “is when Mum is having to sit through them and I’m waiting for her.”
Well, that was just asking for trouble… A friend of Mum’s came unexpectedly for tea the very next day, and talked at length about a sporting hobby of hers, though I didn’t hear any of it and she could have been discussing the moon for all I knew.
It’s difficult to look polite and interested when there’s nothing to engage yourself with. Your eyes wander around the room, pausing on the same old things (newspaper, cat, bag on floor; newspaper, cat, bag on floor). After a while it speeds up (newspapercatbagonfloor, newspapercatbagonfloor) and you start fidgeting. Once I’ve started to fidget, there’s no way back… I have to get away quite soon.
I have a theory that’s why I ended up with so-called panic disorder: one had to be polite and pleasant without interrupting or leaving the room or reading a book or staring out of the window. Once I began fidgeting, I knew it was all slipping away from me; the wish to be friendly was on a head-on collision with the desire to escape. Which was where panic generally set in.
I couldn’t be bothered with panic this time, though I could feel it lurking in the background, eyes glinting red. Instead, you look over at your visitor, who’s still talking, and feel the sleep settling in your eyes…
A guiding light that shines in the night
Heaven’s gift to me
You are so beautiful to me
It’s been in my head the past couple of days.
Sharky wasn’t improving as rapidly as we hoped and we took him back to the vet. He was kept overnight on a drip and returned to me today… along with renal cat kibble and tablets.
He seems brighter – his eyes have cleared.
There was black ice today; looks like tomorrow will be the same. At least it’s not raining any more. The rain yesterday did excuse me from walking Thundercloud, which I was grateful for. I felt shell-shocked about Sharky, having just left him at the vet, and though I could have accepted a dog walk if the day had been bright, I couldn’t face one in the lashing sleet. I would have caught whatever Marianne got in Sense and Sensibility. A case of the fainting Willoughbies.
Last night there was nothing on TV so while Mum watched something, I was reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. In it was a chapter about someone very ill achieving her greatest wish. I’d been feeling numb up to that point, but that was just too much – and I hadn’t even finished the story. Mum was in the next chair and I didn’t want to get all teary and whimpery while she was there. Escaping quietly was a huge struggle. Upstairs I hid in my dark cubby hole and mopped my eyes, which just got wet again.
When I returned to the book and finished the chapter, there was a twist to the story that made me giggle – it wasn’t at all what I thought it was.
But I was so tired.
The next morning we received ‘more optimistic’ news from the vet over the phone, but I was still bushed and rather moody. We met my sister in a coffee shop in town, and (having struggled to find somewhere to put my shopping trolley) I whipped the conversational notebook out.
Me: ♦♦This is ridiculous – there should be more room – you wonder what happened to the DDA.
Mum: ♦The DDA?
Me: ♦♦Disability Discrimination Act.
Pause while the girl came and served our coffee and hot chocolate.
Me: ♦♦I think the only coffee I like now is mocha – everything else tastes like liquid sawdust.
Mum: ♦You often drink liquid sawdust?
Me: ♦♦Here and in Starbucks.
Mum: ♦Is everything wrong this morning? Chilblains? Headache? Blue-tinted specs?
Me: ♦♦Non-pink clothes and sickly 10-year-old cats. And horrible TV with the same shows over and over.
Mum: ♦What’s that about pink clothes? You’ve lost me.
Me: ♦♦I think something red was washed with them and turned them muddy.
Mum: ♦Red with pink means pinker.
Me: ♦♦Not rust red.
Mum: ♦Big Sister says would we like a trip to Fuddyduddytown?
Me: ♦♦I suppose – Fuddyduddytown is not my numero uno town. How can Thingy live there?
Mum: ♦People get stuck in places. It’s not the worst. Remember Yobtown?
Me: ♦♦Not really. When did we go there? I remember Thingyside Leisure Centre as being stuck in a bubble of stark. Probably because they wouldn’t let them build it anywhere nice (can’t blame them).
Mum: ♦Yobtown had most of the shops at either end of the town boarded up. Graffiti everywhere.
Me (distracted): That dark photo of the poppy… it’s like a puddle of thick paint that my eyes have got stuck in. When I pull them away with a *squelch*, it leaves that pattern there.
You get the picture. I shouldn’t blog in this sort of humour.
Yes, the missing notepad. The notepad I carried everywhere with me. We had our conversations in it; our shopping lists, house-letting plan of action, room measurements, blog notes, and anything else we needed to jot down in a hurry. I didn’t notice the moment it slipped from view – just one day I reached into my wheelie bag and wasn’t there.
“I must have left it at home,” I said, and we made do by recording our latest café conversation on the back of an old letter – all about how the queue was longer than there were tables; the two ladies next to us had finished their coffee half an hour ago and hadn’t ordered anything else. I wasn’t worried about the notepad yet – it would be languishing on the coffee table at home.
Except it wasn’t.
OK, so it wasn’t on the coffee table, and it wasn’t on Mum’s desk, and it wasn’t on my desk – so I must have left it at my own house. It would be lying there on the dining table surrounded by measuring tapes and sofa catalogues.
Except it wasn’t.
I couldn’t have looked properly at Mum’s place – it would have fallen on the floor beneath the sofa, or be in a pile of books or magazines swept to one side. But I was getting worried. It was starting to look as though I had left it somewhere. On a coffee table in Starbucks? On a shop display sofa far away in Tumbleton? Being auctioned off in the auction hall? Horrible thought.
“When did you last see your notebook?” I asked myself. Friday afternoon in the carpet shop. It couldn’t have been lost anywhere else, as I hadn’t gone anywhere else since then except between my house and Mum’s.
We finally went to the carpet shop five days after we last visited. Usually there is just one man there, but today he had been joined by two or three others, one of them the owner of the shop.
“Have you seen a purple noteb…?”
“Oh yes, here it is. I found it sitting up here on the counter.”
“Thank you,” we said, backing away from their grins.
You know, they had Mum’s address; she bought two batches of lino from them recently. I was wondering why they didn’t ring up and say “you left your notebook.” We could have been searching for it all over (more than we were). Do you think they just tucked it away without looking at it, or did they read the whole thing from cover to cover?
They would have found snippets like:
The ‘kernel panic’ is connected with the being told to restart.
Need glue for bin numbers
— I hate to see anything trapped – even flies.
— Those flies hatched in there. It’s all they know.
Eyes like agates.
I told him there are things at the bottom of that linen basket that could have lived in the Black Lagoon.
— You are still looking for one for you – not for scaly tenants.
— Not necessarily. If it’s right colour, comfy, big but not too big, nice shape and not too expensive… that’d suit scaly tenants.
I said to (Big Sister) she would look more the part of the Viking than the stripling they were using.
Did I tell you what (Big Sister) said once – caused one to think ‘ooh’ for a minute. She wakened up and we were flying through thick cloud, and said – very loudly – “why have we stopped?”
Small shop, big plate. Darn.
Bluebird’s silver lining is ripped.
— Is this one of those shops where I can hear and you can’t?
— The worst noise is the fridge unit.
— Would our night watchman have been any good?
— The best one we had was when you were a baby. He had a bow and arrow and spent the night in a tree.
Could have been a lot worse. But never let your notepad go for a ramble – you never know whose hands it might fall into.
Comments for this entry (during its previous life on Blogigo):
1. Iain wrote at Sep 22, 2007 at 04:58: Oh, you’ve got to make extracts from the notebook a regular feature!
2. kateblogs wrote at Sep 22, 2007 at 15:10: Ooh yes, it sounds fascinating! I mean your usual posts are too, but I love that kind of randomness. You could use your entries as writers’ prompts. – even now I have a tiny spark of an idea for a story involving the fly conversation.
3. Diddums wrote at Sep 23, 2007 at 01:43: We’ll see. :-). I unleashed a second notepad while the earlier one was missing, so now we have two of them on the go – also various bits of paper sitting around.
Kate, I’m curious to see what your fly story will be – will it have Jeff Goldblum in it?
4. Pacian wrote at Sep 23, 2007 at 15:41: No-one can see my notebook. It is secret! >:-(
5. Diddums wrote at Sep 23, 2007 at 23:03: Till you lose it in a carpet shop…