My friend, though older than me (which is saying something) is always several steps ahead, technologically speaking. She was texting before I was really sure what texting was, etc, etc. But then, if my baby sister hadn’t worked in a bank and told me where to shove my card and what buttons to press, I probably still wouldn’t be using ATM machines. Cautious Clarissa, that’s me – Behind-The-Curve-Betsy.
Today I had coffee with my techno-friend (and another) and we had a pleasant, catching-up sort of chat. After an hour or so she glanced at her smart watch. It was instructing her to stand up. She had been sitting too long, it said.
It struck me that a watch like this could be the perfect excuse for getting away from places you were fed up with being in. Not that my friend was tiring of sitting in a noisy café having a mug of over-strong tea with me, of course – probably – but if she had been…
I began to think of all the other ways people use to escape from one another:
“I mustn’t keep you. Sure you’ve got plenty to do…”
“Must rush, I believe I left the broccoli boiling!”
“Goodness! Is that the time? My dog is waiting for her bowl of biscuits.”
I recall a friend of Ex’s who was having a bit of a thing with the wife of a not-very-nice man know to all of us. She would telephone Ex’s friend late at night to whisper sweet, anguished whatevers down the phone. If we happened to be at his flat and time was getting on he’d say: “Don’t like to throw you out, but my Old Auntie promised to call.”
Ex and I had an unspoken arrangement that if I desperately wanted to go home I would start looking at him, meaningfully. In those days I couldn’t drive and so couldn’t leave before he did. Also I had – and still have – a very low boredom threshold, whereas he specialised in, well, being boring. Or at least, with a beer or two under his belt, holding forth about this and that until people’s eyes began to glaze over. I had heard every single one of these monologues before. I could have recited them word for word.
So, I would start giving him these pained, meaningful glances around ten o’clock, but by then he was in full swing, with captive audience. At one o’clock I would have given up on the meaningful glances and would be pleating the edge of my skirt, then letting it go again, pleating it, letting it go. Attempting the Zen thing, which I had been reading up on – going with the flow, reminding myself that all things shall eventually pass, even my husband’s explanation about how torque operates in the rotary blades of helicopters… The watch of my techno-wiz friend also, at intervals, reminds her to breathe. I didn’t know one could forget, but I suppose it means Pause, Be Calm, Om! Think Of England or whatever.
Canadian sister shares my short-little-span-of-attention and is no good at hiding it. If she gets fed up in company she will fall completely silent and stare at the wall, like a deactivated robot. English sister, on the other hand, is ultra-skilled in that department. Before she can become even the teensiest bit bored she sabotages the person who is beginning to ramble on. She changes the subject with a swift brutality. I have, in the past, been on the receiving end. After a moment or two, you think “Hang on – wasn’t I just talking about…?” Apparently it’s a customer-service telephone technique she learned at the bank.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I get terribly, terribly bored but can neither rudely “deactivate” nor be rude to the bore. I suffer in silence, wearing an expression of utter fascination.
Many years ago, I would be repeatedly buttonholed in the pub by a man with a big nose who smoked cigars and breathed cigar-breath over me. He would brace his arm against the wall over my right shoulder and kind of lean in. There was no escape. He alternated between telling me how he once dug up a buried motorbike – an Indian-something – and telling me stories involving other women and their operations, in terribly accurate gynaecological detail. Ex would make lurid faces behind the man’s back but made no attempt to rescue me.
And earlier this week I spent a good hour sat in the Hospital atrium next to the stinkiest of unwashed bag ladies whilst she reeled off a long list of all the famous stars of the sixties screen whose children she had been nanny to, and how fond they all were of her, and grateful they all were to her, and how she bumped into them many years later on the Charing Cross Road…
However, I did get a short story out of that one.