Thursday, 31 January 2008

Oh do shut up

I am learning more than I need, or want, to know about the private lives, preferences and habits of British people who are total strangers thanks to the combination of mobile telephones and public places. I know, for example, that the boyfriend of a young blonde girl who looks about 15 on the 319 bus is being "a right bastard" and a strange middle-aged man on the number 35 talked someone out of violence - to self or another was not clear - by shouting "Hang on, I'm coming. Hang on," all the way through south east London to London Bridge and the young mother in the children's playground clearly has problems with a female relative or friend because she spent 30 minutes railing on about "her" at the top of her voice while her toddler son walked in front of swings, fell off his bike and rammed into several babies. (Any concern I might have for her problem is negated because she is always railing into the phone about something or other whenever I see, or rather hear, her.)

On the Eurostar a blonde woman announced to the person she was calling and the entire carriage that she was "so excited, so, so, sooo excited" about seeing them she "couldn't wait". Then the young man next to her blathered on about the Paris fashion shows and how he "couldn't take any more" and had told "them" he had to come home because it was his mother's birthday. Two rows back a woman passenger was shouting at someone at their bank. They were all so loud you could hardly hear the train manager requesting mobile phones be used "with consideration".

On a train to Richmond I learned that a thirty something woman had "had a bad day" but would still be cooking dinner if she could get to Tesco in time to pick up something. On the bus back a foppishly handsome young man whose designer look was spoiled only by the fact that it stopped at his ankles, just above scruffy trainers, explained he had been to the gym where he had done x long on this machine, and y long on the other and z number of power lifts or whatever and consequently he was not sure if he was up to partying or even leaving his home for the next week (another girl getting the brush off?)

Several people yelled into mobile phones in various foreign languages but at least they had an excuse; presumably they thought their voice had to carry all the way to Poland or the Philippines or Africa or China. At one point on one bus there were so many people shouting, and I mean shouting, into phones the Frenchman said he felt he had stepped into a lunatic asylum. Why is everyone is getting in such a twist about the government or its agents listening into their conversations? Forget phone taps and bugs, secret agents would learn all they wanted to know spending a week sitting behind people on buses and trains.

I do try not to listen, but this seems a rather bizarre reversal of responsibility, and in any case it is hard not to. It would not be so bad if it was interesting stuff, but mostly it is details of daily minutae we all deal with but usually keep to ourselves. Mostly it is just irritating. Occasionally you hear a gem. A recent favourite did not involve a mobile but a very loud conversation between two pensioners on a bus.

Her: "How's your wife?"
Him: "I haven't seen 'er for three years and I don't want to neither."
Her: "Oh that's a shame. I liked your wife. She's a good woman."
Him: "She's not a good woman. Good riddance, more like."
Her: "Well at least you've got a wife."
Him: "I haven't got a wife as far as I'm concerned. Not for the last three years."
Her: "Well you have, whereas me, I miss my husband dreadfully. Dreadfully. Wonderful man he was. Wonderful. He looked after me, he did, and he took me places. He took me to Guernsey and he took me to.....where was it again?...oh dear, it began with 'b'."
Him: "Belgium, the Bahamas, Abu Dhabi?
Her: "No, no. I remember now, he took me to Bolton."

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