Conversations in passing

When one’s life is lived in the fast lane, conversations in passing usually happens with complete strangers.

Because I am clinically unable to stop talking, I talk during compulsory pauses; waiting for the doctor; walking the dog; standing in a supermarket queue.

I sat next to a lady artist at the hospital the other day. She has been to see Michael Morpurgo’s The Warhorse in London, and recommends it unreservedly. She depends on her sight utterly, but has begun to see flashes behind her eyes.

My favourite supermarket cashier has to work until Monday. Her husband gets the weekend off, and  they miss each other terribly. He is filling the void with his new jet washer. It is a minor miracle: her garden furniture has never looked so good.

The world is full of people, and many of them have something  to say. If one has the eyes, each story is fascinating.

Conversations in passing form a part of many books. My favourites will be no surprise to those who read regular Shrewsday.

Consider Yorick.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is just strolling round the graveyard, mind reeling from recent events when he comes across two gravediggers creating an earthy void for poor little Ophelia.

According to their creator they are clowns: and as Hamlet walks past he sees one of the two, diggers or clowns or what you will, singing a ditty at the graveside.

They are soon talking about Hamlet. It is said the young prince is mad, they gossip, as if he were a character in a soap opera. Why did they send Hamlet to England, one of them asks? They won’t notice if he is mad there: because everyone there is as mad as he already.

And they chat on.

Soon they address the subject of the skull one of them has found. They know who it was: it was Yorick, the King’s jester. Hamlet knew him: he tells his friend how he used to ride on Yorick’s back; and how witty and accomplished this man was. Do you think, asks the Prince; do you think Alexander  looked like this in the ground?

Such thoughts: would they surface without this chance encounter?

Charlotte Bronte has her Jane Eyre consult an inkeeper, who tells her the most important news of the book.

Thornfield Hall has been burnt to the ground through a mad wife’s arson; but the widower lives still, ready to plight a life to the unassuming young woman.

Bronte is almost wicked in her use of this stranger. He was the late Mr Rochester’s butler, he declares early on in the conversation, and how the pit of one’s stomach plummets along with Jane’s. No, no, the present Mr Rochester’s father, he corrects Jane: and one’s heart may start beating once again.

He is garrulous, and will go on interminably about the young governess, unaware that this is the part of the story with which this young woman is over-familiar.

He adds lovely vignette-touches to the characters, like the propensity of Grace Poole, the mad wife’s gaoler, for a spot too much gin. And Mr Rochester- well, Mr Rochester grew savage on his disappointment.

To be a stranger: to hear, as both a prince and a governess did, the details of their stories told by someone else: it adds something. We see the whole business as Joe Public might perceive it.

Today the forest behind my house still lies closed, ravaged by subterranean flames licking through peat-caverns.

We have had a storm and torrential rain, but they won’t take down the cordons which keep us out.

So what must we rely on, but conversations in passing: gossip which travels like wildfire?

I took my nephew, three-year-old Big Al, for a picnic next to two pumping fire engines. I had egg sandwiches, he had cheese. There were grapes and yoghurt, and a packet of crisps for afters.

We struck up a conversation with the fireman. Al told him he has a fire engine just like theirs.

They were working round the clock to quell the flames, the affable fireman said: but the fire goes so deep! Firemen from three counties were working round the clock. On Monday there had been one gust of easterly wind when the firemen simply had to run for their lives.

My husband, standing at the polling station, met a liberal democrat who lived in the road nearest the forest. They were told to pack their things ready to move out that day, he said. They were going to move out to the mansion down the road which doubles as an arts centre. Three hours later, they were told they could stand down.

As a final snippet, it appears YouTube may be instrumental in bringing the perpetrators of the fire to justice. Word is that youngsters may have been filming exploits up there in the forest and – unbelievably – posting them on the social media network. Time will tell.

Word of mouth never loses its power to fascinate: to change the plot and wrong-foot us entirely.  Our beloved stories use them: but real life, they say, is stranger than fiction.

It’s good to talk.

Photo courtesy of ThisisLondon.co.uk

22 thoughts on “Conversations in passing

  1. One reason an old girlfriend and I (she’s been married 17 years) have phone talk is to have intelligent conversations like this about literature, politics and the ridiculous trash that is contemporary poetry. Unless you live in a college town I have found very few people in America with whom to have intelligent conversations such as these. At the slot machine casino talk can be interesting . But it always seems the machines are not interested in giving me any money.

  2. These chance conversations can be the best, can’t they, Kate? I just had one today while walking through a lovely little park where lilacs are queen, but, not today with cold and happened upon a young woman who had stopped by after meeting with her English language teacher nearby. Chinchin and I managed a perfectly reasonable conversation about tulips and the virus that makes some of them so beautiful, though both our accents were heavy to the other and our smiles said more than the words.

    Hope all is well with you, and your eye, and Phil’s election as well.

    1. Penny, what a lovely conversation that must have been:-) The eye is ok, migraine stopped play for a few days, Phil polled a respectable number of votes but the conservatives swept the board….I’m relieved.. it would have been time consuming to say the least…

  3. Enjoyed this opportunity to “eavesdrop” on your exhangeds. Chatting with strangers is wonderful ~ a chance to exchange thoughts without further “obligation.”.

    We went to Village of the Arts today and enjoyed walking around the village, wandering through the eclectic galleries, and chatting up the Artists ~ thought some were easier to communicate with than others. 🙂

    Glad that Phil’s loss is a “win” . . . at least in your book. Now, no more migraines!

    1. That would be nice, Nancy 🙂 The Village of the Arts sounds wonderful! Artists come in all flavours, communicative and uncommunicative. Any chance for a natter…

  4. I also chat to everyone, makes my daughter embarrassed. I’m kind of sorry about Phil’s loss, I was getting excited about how much style you’d bring to Downing Street 😉

    1. Yesterday we filmed a home-made Defeat Address which sums up just how much style we wouldn’t bring, Cindy 😀 Phil’s loss is our gain…family life will be the same haphazard business it has always been !

  5. Oh, yes, chance encounters and exchanges can lead to plot development and exposition both in narrative and in real life. Lovely.

    At Mr Sainsbury’s last week, in a till queue I discovered that a vet can give you a paper prescription just as doctor does, if you ask, and leave you to fill it – and that on line you can find most of these prescriptions at a third of the cost that you’d pay if your vet dispensed them? I though that one is worth sharing (well relevant in UK anyway 🙂 )

    Glad the rain has come: I do hope it quenches the fires soon

  6. It is, Kate 🙂 My husband loves to talk to strangers (as did my Dad) and knows all the goss in our neighbourhood, while I’m oblivious

  7. As children we were always amazed when our dad talked to people no matter where we went – we would ask him, “Do you know that man?” And his reply was always, “We used to go to different schools together.”
    I like that you bring up the importance of “chance” conversations in literature. Even in fiction, such passing conversations should remind us of the power of our words and observations and make us realize that we don’t always know how what we say is going to affect someone.

  8. OMG, a YouTube exposé – must be countless by now! Sorry to hear about the ravaging fire and that Phil wasn’t elected, although I quite relate to your relief in that regard 🙂

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