The Art of Borrowed Conversation

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

You know the way it goes; when the person with whom you are trying to have a conversation denies having either seen or heard anything, despite the fact that they were with you at the time. You wonder how this could possibly be, and then you realise that they just don’t want to talk to you. I suppose that when people really want to say, ‘Look, I can’t be bothered with you. You’re boring. Leave me alone,’ mostly they decide against confrontation and hope that by ignoring you, you will just go away. If you do not, they may answer a non-existent phone call, ostentatiously read a leaflet about herpes, or try on a succession of new hats. Anything to make you go away and do something useful, like load the dishwasher or trim the hedge.

My wife has the amazing ability to become both deaf and blind as soon as she sits in the passenger seat of our car. A typical conversation will go:
Me – I really love this song.
She – What song?
Me – This song: the one on the radio.
She – Oh…
Or, having screeched to a shuddering halt, having been confronted by a ten ton truck thundering towards us on the wrong side of the road:
Me – Bloody hell! Did you see that?
She – No.

It strikes me that most dialogues are actually nothing more than simultaneous monologues, with maximum putting in one’s own two pen’orth, and minimum listening. We’re all guilty of it: I know what I want to say, but, crucially, I have not heard what you have to say yet. No matter, I’ll have my say as soon as you stop.

Odd then, isn’t it, that loathe as we are to listen to the conversations of which we are part, we can, none of us, resist listening in on the conversations of others?

Eavesdropping is a joy that it is hard to turn one’s back on. Anyone that has ever written comedy has a fund of overheard gems locked away for future use. Seems to me that voices are getting louder and conversations less and less inhibited. It is as though, in reality, people want others to hear their conversations: a kind of validation; living proof that life is not all virtual. Anyway, sometimes you can’t help but oblige.

If you wish to go in for a spot of eavesdropping, then public transport is definitely the place to be. I’m not talking the bawled out demi-dialogues that you get from those with a mobile phone permanently screwed to their ear, I am talking bona-fide, two-way interaction, viz. the couple on the seat in front. My own favourite happened some years ago on a wet, winter’s bus journey into work. I was wedged between the window and Middle-Aged Woman 1, who was deep in conversation with Middle-Aged Woman 2 on the seat in front. The conversation is etched, as if by diamond-tipped graver, onto my brain.
M.A.W 1 – How’s your Bert? [I must be honest here, I do not remember the name, but if her husband wasn’t Bert, he should have been.]
M.A.W 2 – Oh, much the same. He can’t walk at the moment: it’s his legs you know.
M.A.W 1- Mmm, Myra’s husband was the same. He wound up in hospital. He’s on one of those intra-penis drips now…’
And that was it, I was lost. I did not hear any more of the conversation, I was too busy trying to cough up the pear-drop I had just swallowed, but those three short lines had already been filed away as one of my most prized possessions.

I think about it sometimes, when I am driving to work and I wonder, could she possibly have been right about the intra-penis drip? I thought it funny then, but now I start to wonder… I could ask my wife of course, but I don’t think she would hear me.

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