I really don’t like people staring at me. I had a job in a pub once, as a barmaid. Eleven days I lasted. I was the world’s worst barmaid for several reasons, not just the staring.
For starters I panic when stressed: the sight of a party of seven would-be revellers shambling in, including women (so not all going to want beer) reduced me to a quivering wreck.
I can add up forwards but not backwards, hence giving change for a £20 note will always be a challenge. I’d be alright if there was time to write it down…
I am lacking in proactivity, ie I either don’t see stuff that needs doing or can’t motivate myself to do it. That’s a problem when there are greasy meaty plates to be collected, tables to be wiped, glasses to be polished until they twinkle.
I don’t do social interaction. I never could do flirting (which at my age is probably a mercy for any potential flirtee); I can’t achieve banter (pron: nowadays, with obligatory glottal stop: ban-eeeer); I don’t tend to see jokes, especially bad ones; I can’t laugh on demand, especially at bad jokes I have heard many times before; I don’t like people.
But the worst thing about being a barmaid was the staring. Men, in pubs, stare at the barmaid. Even if you are nothing-like-Angelina-Jolie they will inspect your bosoms (yes, they will) at length, minutely and continually. Their eyes will follow you from one end of the bar to the other. If you turn your back on them they will stare at your bottom. If you turn round again they will stare at the bosoms. If you speak to them they will glance briefly at your face, then return to staring at your bosoms. You are television. You are that solitary stripy fish in the fish-tank in the dentist’s waiting room – nobody particularly wants to stare at it but it’s the only moving thing and there’s nothing else to do…
Women inspect men too, of course. Just not the bosoms.
Hence – by a majestic swoop of the imagination – why I did not want a For Sale sign. I have had For Sale signs before. The second that little van arrives and the man with the mallet emerges all the neighbours know. Furthermore, they feel obliged to speak to you, about your moving.
So, you’re moving house I see?
Not too keen on it round here, then?
Not been here long, really, have you?
‘Course, you only moved up here to be near your Old Mum, didn’t you? Now she’s, you know, tucked away somewhere, it’s inevitable you would be moving.
Going somewhere nice? Going far?
Ah, I ‘ve heard it’s nice round there. Never been, but my cousin did once.
This time I didn’t have a For Sale sign and I still sold the house. I had a couple of pretty horrendous Open Days and got an offer. And I thought I might have got away with it until yesterday when she-of-the-Illegal-Scotsman-and-the-Dog-known-as-Big-Puppy caught me collecting the Blue Bin from outside.
Moving, I gather?
Yeeees, saw you’d had people in. Visitors. Sorry to see you go and all that, but now your Mum’s safely tucked away… Not too keen on round here, then?
The trouble is, I can’t really complain since I am über-interested in my neighbours. They provide such good material, for this – for stories generally. I never pass a net curtain without checking for activity in the road outside; not that there is much. If there are no humans I observe sparrows drinking from potholes and stray cats a-straying. The cats sense my presence, of course. Hopefully the humans don’t. If there are humans, well, bonanza!
I watch Charlie chatting to his ex-wife – who has gone very grey recently – over the wheelie bins or the garden fence. No flirting going on there, either, but something … a long friendship. Years between them.
I watch the post-lady belting from door to door , rat-tat-tatting when there’s a parcel to be handed through. I watch gloomy people with giant plastic satchels delivering free newspapers, and brisker, younger people with handfuls of fliers for the Indian Restaurant or Nail-Grooming Salons. I watch the Illegal Scotsman loading up his white van with solar panel paraphernalia and hear him as he turns up some hard rock radio station really loud inside and bumps off up the unmade road, broadcasting Guns n’ Roses. I watch Big Puppy setting off for his constitutional and ancient Her Down The End tottering out, occasionally, to collect a bin. She has developed a habit of collecting other people’s bins too, and wheeling them down the sides of the houses. It’s kind of her. Always the wrong bin. Always the discreet hunt, then, for the neighbour harbouring the bin with my house number.