Contrary to popular belief there is still a lot of space, even in this Isle. For instance, I can walk across fields outside my back door for ages before encountering another homo sapien. Even when there are people around I can choose to zone out in a crowded place.
That said, some folk have a talent – let’s call it that shall we? – for invading ones space. Some road users do it. Some take up extra space on public transport. Some peg out acres of territory on Cornish beaches. Some people are inappropriately LOUD.
So whilst that’s in Blighty, clearly there is a cultural calibration to this. For instance, try traveling in India using British rules of acceptable personal space. You’d go potty within an hour of arriving. Somewhat ironically, in Texas walking within the same wide, corporate corridor as a colleague elicits an “excuse me” from them as if we’d physically bumped into each other. Aren’t they supposed to be a brash bunch? With loads of, y’know, space? (I had to check: no, it’s just a proximity warning mechanism/faux politeness. No reflection on m’corridor walkin’ skills y’hear.) Japan? Crammed and spacious all at once with weapons grade respect/politeness. There are in the region of 7 billion of us, rubbing along is surely a necessary skill.
A skill lost to some.
Allow me to transport you to a splendid indy cafe on the high street in rural Marlborough. This snug establishment serves good coffee and outstanding savoury scoff. The cakes are sublime too. By inclination am a keen supporter of the small business. This particular one offers a tip-top venn of delicious tucker, convenience, natural light, cosy atmosphere and independence.
Nursing a coffee on a autumnal Friday morning, relaxing into the vibe, a happy place away from it all. For a short while before the day’s list of stuff necessitates action. There are less than a dozen patrons, which makes it just-right occupancy: profitable for the proprietor, good service, nice lo-fi buzz. Bliss.
Then it begins.
[Quietly] “Good morning, which coffee did you want?”
[Engaged, patiently and cheerfully] “So that was one flat white and one cappuccino?”
I start. Before the first syllable of the above skirmish. It might be the caffeine. A quick self-inventory. Coffee, smartphone (silent), breathing in-out, haven’t farted, sat in solo-booth in far corner. Personal sitrep in a word? Unobtrusive. At this point I make a mental effort to analyse the sounds I can hear. There are tunes from the sound system – good volume balance between audibility of music/artist and easily spoken over – and several chats in progress. Traffic passes the window, but is barely a whisper. I can see lips moving around my neighbour tables and hear the gentle hubbub of voices. But these customers are choosing to converse quietly.
Ahhh, I get it: the breakfast partner of our foghorn customer is deaf?
Yet, somehow, I don’t think she is. The stream of noisy consciousness thus far wasn’t exclusively for the benefit of them. Our customer is stood at the counter loudly and plummily blurting a broadcast loud enough to fill a drill hall.
Am aware my chimp has moved it’s DEFCON setting up a notch without being asked. I sense it’s not alone in this now somehow more confined space.
The foghorn carries on. Am no longer ascertaining the details as it’s just a torrent of posh noise with the occasional “DAHHHLING” thrown in. Apparently it’s a complex food order, despite the concise menu. I can no longer concentrate on my own serenity either. My chimp – helpfully? – considers standing up and yelling – by which I mean properly slowly, big jaw movement, shouting – “S….T…F…U.!”
Luckily (?) my British human intervenes and I sit stock still.
Yes, yes, yes: quite the Victor Meldrew these days aren’t we Mister Beer?
When the verbal conflict of the order is over I am in mind of Stephen Fry’s unforgettable General Melchett. What might that character’s offspring/family have been like?
Momentarily a lovely atmosphere washes back in like a gentle tide. As quickly it’s gone as a new, now tete-a-tete, tirade begins. Be grateful that the gory details of this individual’s family’s complex medical issues are not repeated here. A whole cafe of people now know about them. Ewwww. Driven through a sense of repulsion, my Welsh underdog/inverted snob wanders into mind: I thought the toffs had stronger genes than us mongrels? Oh dear, my Celtic chimp is turning this into class war.
Then, a minor miracle of traffic wardenery.
[Stands up violently] “IHAVETOMOVETHEBLOODYCARBECAUSETHEBUGGAHSWILLSTINGYO….”
[Exit stage right, slamming door behind.]
And with that dear reader, the noise is gone.
I stand up and proclaim “Praise be! … Praise be for the meter maids of Marlborough town!” The cafe bursts into spontaneous applause.
Well, that last bit didn’t happen. But we all quietly felt it. Being a real man, a true Brit, I drained my cup and left before the posh PA system returned. Discretion being the better part of valour and all that.
Am sure Brexit will sort all this out.