All this country town friendliness is not easy to swallow. Here it’s good morning this and have a nice day that. I’m not used to it. In London, we don’t even make eye contact let alone address complete strangers no matter how hot/cold/rainy the weather might be. It’s simply not done. Here after only a few weeks, the neighbours are addressing me by name and the team on the check-out in the local supermarket recognise me and ask me how I am and what kind of weekend I had. And its very kind of them. It is. I appreciate it. Really, I do. The problem is that after a lifetime of being anonymous in the great churning capital where the chance of ever seeing the same person twice is practically non-existent, it’s really rather a pressure. Almost enough to make me feel the need to put on mascara every time I go out. But not quite.
The High Street. I’m laden down with shopping bags (mostly wine bottles I admit) when a girl coming out of the bookshop canons hard in to my shoulder. She doesn’t apologise. She doesn’t say anything but just keeps on walking. And am I cheered by the fact that there is obviously someone else in this town who finds incessant cordiality as hard to pull off as I do? No, I bloody well am not! I’m seriously pissed off. Suddenly the latent Londoner, who for the last month has been quietly slumbering, awakens and springs in to combative action. It’s not going to be pretty.
“Hey! You might want to watch where you’re going!” I yell.
And does she turn around, acknowledge that the collision was her fault and say she’s sorry? No, she bloody well does not. That’s when I give chase.
“Wait up!” I holler, legging it after her with my wine bottles clanking dangerously together “Just hold on a minute…” but she ignores me. I clank on heaving one of the bags up and under my arm. She’s wearing hareem style trousers and a long flowery top in all those off-shades of coral that look like they have been rolled in mud and so there’s no chance of losing sight of her.
“Would you bloody well hold on a moment…” I shout and by this time I’m beginning to draw a crowd. I come right up behind her, practically shouting in her ear but still she walks on. Now I really am livid. Taking hold of her elbow I force her to a halt and swing around to confront her.
“What’s the hell’s the matter with you?” I demand “Is it too much to expect a simple apology?”
A mild faced girl somewhere in her thirties with her hair clipped on one side of her forehead and wearing an expression of startled surprise stares back at me.
“Well, is it?” I persist.
“Is it what?” asks the girl.
“Too much to make a…”
The spectators start to make themselves comfortable and fleetingly I wonder how soon they’ll get out their phones and I’ll find myself on YouTube.
“Didn’t you hear me yelling?” I continue “Oh, for God’s sake!” This as the plastic bag held precariously under my arm slips and comes crashing to the ground. Immediately there’s a river of red wine, some of it splashing on to the hem of the girl’s hareem trousers. Both of us gaze down at it pooling about our feet. Serves her right I think, it should blend right in with that hideous coral.
“Let me help you with that” she says and stooping begins to gingerly pick up shards of glass.
“It’s obvious that I’ve upset you in some way and so it’s the least I can do. Just out of interest what exactly is it that I’ve done?”
Feeling boorish and rather a fool I start to explain but she interrupts me.
“Look there’s a bin right there. If we wrap the glass in the plastic bag it shouldn’t cut anyone”
And so together we dispose of the broken bottles (two of them) all much to the obvious disappointment of the bystanders, who now denied the spectacle of a full-blown ruck, drift off.
“I’m Maggie” she says
“And I’m Sally” I reply “I’m sorry for all the shouting…”
She shrugs “It’s me that should apologise”
I nod because I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that.
“I was deep in a meditation exercise and I honestly didn’t hear you”
“You meditate in the street?”
Maggie laughs. “I do and it’s not actually as crazy as it sounds. Look why don’t you come and have a drink and I’ll tell you about it?”
I shake my head.
“It’s nice of you but no thanks…”
But my protest is cut short. A tall stocky guy with thick dark hair showing threads of grey appears at her side. They hug and then Maggie introduces me.
“Mark, this is Sally. She’s joining us for a drink”
“Sally, meet my brother Mark”
Mark smiles and extends his hand. Wow is my first thought. My second is… why oh why aren’t I wearing any mascara?
TO BE CONTINUED