Thursday 10 August 2017

Absorbing Conversations

Last week, a friend and I ate lunch on a bench in a busy town square. Opposite, perching on a bollard, was a well-dressed man doing exactly the same – eating his lunch (a sharing-bag full of what looked like vegetable crisps), and watching people walk by. In fact, he probably ended up watching us too. A triangle of people-watchers. We were only there for a few minutes, but so much can be gained from just observing, listening, and reminding ourselves to be aware of our surroundings. So many people I know like to write and work in cafes. A moment of boredom strikes, look up, and immediately you have a world of distractions at your disposal. Watch as people walk past expansive cafĂ© windows, showing off their best clothes, or catch a gasp of conversation as groups pass by an open door.

On a train home this week I sat at a table opposite another passenger, expecting to spend the next few hours reading, opening and closing my notebook, scrolling through Instagram. Instead, this passenger and I ended up talking throughout the three-hour journey. I learned about the swimming costumes people used to wear fifty years ago, made of heavy quilted material that sagged in water. I learned the names of her grandchildren. Food took up a large part of the conversation. Hummus, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and a pile of salad leaves. Halva crumbled over ice cream. Sliced banana on toast. We shared an obsession with coconut: macaroons both chewy and crisp (but those ones from that place whose name escapes her were too sweet, wouldn’t recommend), porridge made with the thinner milk from the carton, shredded coconut toasted in a dry pan to top a morning smoothie, peanut butter with a touch of coconut oil. Dhal with coconut milk and spinach. Crumbly biscuits made of coconut, oats, and raisins. We were both very hungry by this point.

Earlier in the day, sat in a little coffeeshop with the tables packed in side-by-side, I couldn’t help but hear the conversations going on around me (I’m sure people on the train heard my meandering conversation too). The women at the next table were so close to me that we were almost sharing tables, and their words drifted over along with the steam from their turmeric lattes. Everyone’s words muddled together. I’ll put some here – not a coherent conversation, but a random collection. For no real purpose at all. Just for the sake of listening better, and finding what inspiration we can, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing. (And for the sake of writing – with no aim and no perfectionism.)

“I’ve got a new diet regime. I think I’m going vegan.”
“I don’t like all this publicity… bovine TB…”
“I’m not… it’s really put me off, actually.
Also put me off dairy, actually.”
“So I’m struggling slightly because I don’t know what to eat.”
“Good as new. Bring it over.”
“Cash or card?” “That’s fine.”
“Should have done that at the beginning.”
“This morning I had kale, blueberries, something
called fax… flax, a superfood, ten cashews
and some mint from the garden. Whizzed it up.”
[Sound effect]
“Take this table, clean now.” “Sugar there.”
“Made some dhal. So easy to make.
Absolutely gorgeous. So cheap, so delicious, healthy.”
“Caramelised onion, cheese… made four – one then,
one the next day. Easy. With salad.”
“Have you met David? That’s him, with Thomas and Sarah.”

Make what you will of that...


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