Thursday, 6 August 2015

One Idle Afternoon

Scene: A sunny April afternoon, 2015. I am sitting at my desk-dining table listening with half an ear to the rise and fall of pub garden chatter that sounds how an orchestra might sound tuning up, whilst admiring Truman Capote's writing style and wondering if I should attempt something similar.
Finally, after my mind has taken flight many times, I decide yes: I will turn journalist for one afternoon.
But how do you twist something so mundane into a noteworthy event? Do all reports have to be notable? Maybe not; perhaps some people take pleasure in fine details, the things others miss. It is, I suppose, possible that the everyday could be considered just as dramatic if you're accustomed to not observing it.
That's all I do. Observe. Overhear. Detect different tones, notice expressions and gestures. Recognise a familiar pitch in the exchange of gossip or banter; know when men are discussing sex or sport, when women are chatting about EVERYTHING with like-minded girlfriends. And there are discernible subtle differences between pairings: mother and daughter, father and son, a loved-up or an old married couple, companions of the same or opposite sex of variable ages; whereas groups are trickier, but sometimes you can distinguish the hierarchical or social structure. In tribes, some jostle, some sit back, but generally there'll be a display of raised voices, lowered confessional tones or a silent retreat.
The Retreats interest me and so I regard more closely their behaviour. I spot the darting bug-eyed look, the nervous drinking, the amused-bemused half-smile, and the clumsy fiddling with watches, rings, phones, pockets and hair. The trying to look engaged, but not; attention elsewhere, possibly on when can they leave, where are the lavatories, or puzzling why the circumvent chatter is washing over them as if it were a foreign tide. I know their type well for we always recognise the traits we may or may not realise we demonstrate in the exact same situations.
The Intimates too are relatively easy to zoom in on for they draw one of their tribe aside and huddle in corners or more secluded spots. You see their bent heads, their lips almost pressed to another's ears as if they've hung out a 'Do Not Disturb' sign. Ideally, the chosen confidante will stay by their side, but if not they will swiftly select another and continue their 'room only for two' conversation. A third is rarely admitted, because usually when this happens the Intimate suffers a verbal form of writer's block. Their flow of speech interrupted with a third pair of eyes upon them. Their comfortable manner dissolving with the intrusion so that they find they cannot coherently speak. Their sentences now mumbled and ill-formed abruptly break off or hang in the air as annihilating self-consciousness takes over. If prolonged, they wander off on the pretext of getting another drink but in doing so commandeer another. One-to-one is their chief comfort zone as the exclusion of all others brings a contentedness to socialising.
I don't mind the Retreats or the Intimates, they're interesting to recognise and study, but the Trumpets I can't abide. The attention-grabbing loud-mouthed. The ones whose voices can be heard, raised over everyone else. The over-exaggerated laughter, the boorish shouts. The female's pitch like chalk on a blackboard and the male's a deep foghorn. You need no heavy swirling mist to know where these two are for they dominate a gathering, and their behaviour is just as desperate. They shout over tops of heads, they knock drinks over, they make people stop and stare, and are thoroughly convinced that by being a spectacle they're the life and soul of the party.
I much prefer the Chameleons as those that meld are more likely to be flatterers and less likely to be fools.

Picture Credit: Capote photographed by Arnold Newman in NYC, 1977