I hooted over Joanna’s post last week. It made me remember a couple of earwigs of my own.
In the first, I overheard a memorable exchange. It came out of the blue, in truly exceptional circumstances. I’d use it in a book, if I could write one good enough.
In the other I was, as it were, earwigged. But I bet the earwiggers remember it. Both cheered me up enormously.
So I thought I would share.
Setting 1: the Exotic Holiday
Occasionally, I travel with a Birdwatcher. This is frequently rewarding, not least in restoring my writing energy . But best approached with caution.
Imagine a Birdwatcher says, “Come with me to the Caribbean, there’s lots to see.” That’s birds. Where do birds hang out? Rubbish dumps. Sewage plants. Very early in the morning. Think the Dawn Chorus.
So we were on a Caribbean island but this was not a Birdwatcher-planned holiday. We were staying on an old sugar plantation, playing croquet after lunch and drinking planter’s punch at the cocktail hour.
Fabulous birds popped in, going about their normal business. Bananquits (I’m not joking) stole our breakfast sugar. Humming birds, like flying jewels, buzzed about our walks. Fireflies danced after sundown. But…
Scene 1: The Rain Forest
There was a trip into the ancient rain forest which covered the centre of the island. We set off after breakfast and would return for tea. Very civilised.
Also informal. Maybe a little under-organised.
It was a party of, say, seven. Plus two cheerful local guides. They, like us, wore good solid boots, mosquito repellent and binoculars. The others didn’t.
One of the party had to be carried back. (Ankle injury. “No biggie,” said junior guide, the one with a Devon accent.) So they took up the tail end of the group and deputed The Birdwatcher to lead the way down.
Conflict 1: Rivalry
His nice wife brokered a peace — I suspect she told him the Birdwatcher’s binoculars had swung it. Well, that’s what I thought myself. We set off, the Birdwatcher leading.
The Natural Leader continued to grumble. And stride down the path, as if he were in a race and trying to overtake.
The terrain made the path zigzag. Sometimes members of the party were a lot closer to each other, as the hummingbird flies, than they quite realised. Behind us, the Natural Leader constantly urged his wife to hurry up
I’m sure that’s why I — though not the Birdwatcher, avian-focused — heard the wife’s patience finally snap.
“I’m sorry Sidney,” she said crisply. “I can’t help it. Some of us are Tarzans and some of us are Janes.”
It’s going to be hard to write a book as good as that!
Setting 2: the Backstory of Bond — James Bond
Senior cat is James Bond. He is v. handsome and strolls the street like Burlington Bertie, especially after the pubs close. (Don’t ask.) Everyone in the street knows James.
One neighbour, returning from a weekend’s shooting, rings my doorbell. Embarrassed, he introduces himself. He has brought me a brace of grouse. I am surprised, but charmed. Then he explains: “For James.” Because senior cat waltzed into their house and pinched one the weekend before.
I thank him prettily and ring my mum — what do I do with bird carcases? “Take them to the butcher,” says the fount of all wisdom with great firmness.
Scene 2: The London Underground, Morning Rush Hour
I fail to get on the first two trains. The third arrives, and the crowd tenses, like a herd ready to charge. I might not jump for this one, but then again, I might. I limber up a bit…
And someone taps me on the shoulder. I swing round, prepared to repel boarders, long lost schoolfriends and chuggers.
To come face to face with a complete stranger. “Excuse me,” she says in a soft American accent. “You don’t know me but…”
Conflict 2: Rivalry?
“You’re Sophie Weston, right? From Number 3?”
I can’t deny it.
She is clearly embarrassed. So I suppose I should have guessed…
She swallows and says bravely, “James has been sleeping with me.”
Except at our end, eerily still. The doors to the carriage that has stopped in front of my new neighbour and me are wide open. A few people get off.
Nobody gets on.
Indeed, the keenest commuters, who had pushed their way to the very front of the crowd, have now turned their backs on the train and are straining to hear my reply.
Me, sighing: “Don’t worry about it. If you leave your window open, he’ll be in like Flynn. Nearly gave Priscilla a heart attack when she moved into Number Twenty-something last year. He jumped on her in the dark.”
She, relieved: “Oh, that’s all right then.”
It was the start of a great friendship.
But I’ve often wondered how many of the earwiggers staggered off to their jobs that morning, utterly convinced that the world was now going to hell in a hand basket.