People watching, or to give it its proper title ‘anthropology’. Unlike many proper anthropologists I am not keen on spending hours hidden a jungle eating rice and gnat testicles, to study the behaviour of a tribe hidden from the modern world.
No I much prefer to sit down in a comfortable chair sipping a macchiato, and perusing those who pass the plate glass windows of my local ‘Café Nero’. (yes I know my dear wife has written about this subject in her blog, but we were there together and the subject interested us both).
While we both like to give the passing persons a fictional life back story, normally becoming more extreme as the time goes by, (and the caffeine takes hold of our neurone receptors). I also like to look a little deeper at the behaviour of the individuals and groups.
I am a keen walker and enjoy heading of to the hills and spending time hiking through the wilder areas of this small island we call Britain. While walking over yet another rise on my way to the journeys end, if anyone else passes there is always a few spoken words of greeting, nothing probing, nothing personal just general niceties to pass those fleeting moments.
But here the as concrete, bricks, and shop displays shout for attention our willingness to acknowledge each other disappear. I am sure that many will argue that there are far too many people to say hello to, and that we have nothing in common, unlike the ramblers who are all doing the same thing hence have a connection. And yes I will agree with you that even in our small Welsh town as you walk from one end to the other, you could pass hundreds of people and to say hello to each would be a laborious task at best.
It is the fact that most people just seem to ignore each other as they pass within a few feet. Being British we hold our faces with composure and no emotion showing. But what if that person you are just about to walk past is about to get hit by a bus, and yours is the last face they see, do they see a face of indifference? We all dream that we will die on our beds with our families beside us peacefully going to sleep for the final time.
Looking back at those people who pass by the windows (it really is a good place to people watch by the way). You can divide them into many groups. You have the old widows that pull a trolley behind them, looking at windows full of ‘things’ that they could not even dream of when they were children in war torn Britain.
Then there are the retired couples, whose clothes slowly start matching as both start wearing beige slacks with elastic waist bands for comfort, enjoying their shopping day.
Next you have the business type. Now we don’t have the city type here, but there are the suited and booted who are glued to there phones and looking harassed.
As transport is getting better and technology is now so cheap we have an abundance of the ‘rich young and hip’. They can not afford to buy a house so they live at home still, and spend their money on clothes and fashion.
Then there are the young mothers, who prowl around with their pushchairs in packs. This is the most diverse group as the backgrounds are separated from each mother/child coupling. The wealth of each can be seen in the clothes of the coupling. One will be wearing ‘Baby Gap’ and ‘Boden’ while the other a sports top paired ‘Primark’ Jeans, and an all in one baby-grow with slogans printed on it.
Then you have the Parental group, those old enough to have children in school or college. Not quite old enough to look forward to retirement but a little too old to be going out Saturday nights. This group spends its time in town not out of necessity but to enjoy window shopping for a new ‘thing’ to replace the old ‘thing’ that has finally given up the ghost after fifteen years of faithful service. To while away the time they will sit down and sip a macchiato and watch people go by.
With an observant eye you can see within these circles they do acknowledge each other in their own manner. The young mothers steer towards each other start talking from twenty yards away and don’t pause in stride as messages about toddler groups are given. The business types will raise their hands in greeting and use a simple form of sign language to communicate to each other that they should phone, while still on their phones to other business types arranging meetings. The old widows will stop and discuss the latest ailment affecting them or their neighbour then continue on holding their coats around them even tighter. The retired couples are the ones that stop and will have lengthy discourses about the state of the world and how it was so much better way back when. The ‘rich young hip’ will greet by giving a smile and one will always give an astonished look at the others news. But the parental group don’t make much effort they will pass each other and give a small nod.
It is almost never that these groups will acknowledge each other, as they pass each other in a chaotic ballet played out for time immemorial. Passing etiquette between groups are passed down from generation to generation. Younger shall always take the higher pass, pushchairs have right of way through crowds and if you pass within three feet of each other you must move you arm out of the way and twist slightly at the waist.
If you have to squeeze through a gap the uttered sentence ‘I am so sorry can I just squee…’ must never be completed before the manoeuvre, and the ‘thank-you’ has to be louder than the question.
But the one group that has the highest authority are the elderly widows. They will plough on head down.
Woe betide you if you are caught between an ‘elderly widow’ and ‘pushchair toting young mother’. You know you are going to upset one and you have to choose quickly.
Within that two hundredth of a second you judge your opponents. First the old widow she is four feet nothing and weilds a four wheeled trolley full of tinned cat food and fresh bread, then the young mother the child is asleep and there are no piles of shopping falling of the pushchair, then with an apologetic smile you side step the pushchair and hop over the back wheel twisting in mid air and apologising for there not being enough room. If the pushchair contains an awake baby that is grubby from sweets the mother has used as blackmail just to keep it from screaming, and there are enough bags hanging of the back of the pushchair to keep the local landfill site busy for the next six weeks. A quick look at the mother whose hair is now auditioning for the next yeti film and there is look of exasperation on her face and her eyes are wet from tears of frustration then, you flatten yourself along the wall wishing you could become like the chalky emulsion that you know has just covered your coat. And pray that the two passing will leave you enough room not to loose you toes.
Of course watching this from the comfort of a heated coffee shop, only weakens your resolve to go out and join the fray, and that third cup of coffee already beckons, besides the chores will always be there later.