Friday 3 April 2009


For a dedicated gossip and want-to-know-all eavesdropping is a marvellous source of satisfaction. There is no need to ask questions, no need to read faces, all you have to do is get quietly on with your crossword if you are in a restaurant or looking out of the window if you are on a 'bus. The material is right there for the taking,or, indeed, for the not avoiding. Yesterday I was treating myself to lunch in a local Chinese restaurant - it has been a stressful week and, credit crunch or not, a girl has to have some light relief - which is normally quite sedate and full of oldies like me, muttering to one another sotto voce. On this occasion I was sitting not far from a group of three ladies all of whom must clearly have been deaf. This was not a masterful piece of deduction: they were enunciating particularly carefully and with considerable volume. In other words, they were shouting, sotto voce being out of the equation. I learnt so much about each of them that I could have filled in a job application form on their behalf. I was not asked to do that. I was invisible to them. But I did have a lovely entertaining time and had to keep reminding myself to fill in the odd clue in the crossword in case one of them, like-minded, noticed me noticing.
It turns out that it was the birthday of one of them. She was 83. I can tell you she doesn't normally eat twice a day and would have to make her husband dinner and watch him eat it having had so much lunch. One of her companions feels much better since she found this marvellous trainer who will come to the house for £45 and bring a table and all she needs with her. She would be willing to pass on her telephone number but, laugh, doesn't want her to get too busy to have time for my narrator. They quite understood. So do I. We have all had the experience of lending someone a cricket bat which they then run away with and hold on to until it becomes their cricket bat. But I was disappointed. I would like to have known more about this miracle worker. Not that I am good enough with numbers to have kept it in my head had she given it, although, I could of course, have disguised it as a clue and noted it on my newspaper. Someone's husband didn't hold with that and, having been such a great sportsman, kept nagging her to exercise out in the open instead of paying good money for a stranger to enter his home.
He is very demanding in other ways, too, and not very warm "except in bed". How I stopped myself asking if she meant thermally or sexually, I don't know, but be assured, Dear Reader, that stop myself Idid. As it happens, I think she must have meant sexually because the talk then went on to how long it was prudent to leave 'you know' without putting the man in the position of looking for 'it' elsewhere. It turns out that one of the ladies was not married but was "seeing someone". She answered 62 when asked how old she was but he thinks she is 55 so please could it be kept between them? This time, I did peek. I think she could pass for, say, 59, but less would be pushing it. One of them had to leave because the husband collecting her wouldn't be able to wait outside. I held my breath to see how the bill would be dealt with. They split it, letting the birthday girl off her share of the tip. I expected the remaining two would discuss the departee and so they did, but not unkindly. She was looking surprisingly well, "after all", but, although I could tell you what each of them and their families will be doing for Easter, I cannot say after what that lady is looking well.
I had had a lovely time. It was quite unlike another recent eavesdrop. This was what I will have to call a conversation between a young woman and a not so young man. We were sitting at a bar in a Japanese restaurant, they, just the two of them, around the corner from me. Picture it? Anyway, their communication was so threaded through with sexuality that I was border-line discomfitted. It is extraordinary how they felt able to behave as if they were alone when that was far from the case. She, on a cold day, was wearing not much leaving acres of stroking possibility for her companion. It seems he was "taken" but she was content to "borrow" him for a little while. They had been an item in the past and she rather regretted that that was no longer the case. Again, under cover of the crossword, I was invisible, but this time it didn't feel like fun and, indeed, a young woman with a little girl aged around 5 who was sitting next to me, asked if the staff could find her somewhere else to sit. I felt better. I was worried I had been ageistly prudish in my discomfiture.
The moral is: beware what you say and do in public. You may be within orbit of a professional noticer, busybody and/or old-fashioned nosey-parker.

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