Monday this week was Very Chatty. After my third un-instigated conversation with strangers, I decided to close my notebook and embrace it. This was clearly not a day for productivity but for conversation.
My first memorable encounter was in the waiting room for the audiologist with a man, a good few years my senior, who clearly had better hearing than mine as we managed an entire conversation without so much as a whiff of a 'pardon' from his side, even though his hearing aids lay broken in their box. He told me one of those horror stories about call centres on the other side of the world trying to repair a phone line in his living room. While speaking to the engineer who'd finally arrived a month after the relatively well-hearing man's first request and was testing the line, he took a call from a man wishing to plan his funeral. 'I'm really excited about this one," he said to the engineer, who gave him a slightly disapproving look, unaware that he was an undertaker. I made a mental note that I'd be happy for this man to carry my coffin when the time came. He had one of those chuckles which made him bob up and down and cheeks which pulled themselves up into gobstopper balls when he laughed.
Next came a lady in her sixties who was comforted to see someone in our hearing aid party who was even younger than she was. Hearing centres have their upside. They, and the cancer ward, are the only place where I ever feel, and indeed am ever described as, young. We chatted about our first hearing aid encounters and the relief of suddenly being able to hear whole sentences instead of every first, fifth and eighth word and how it had been the rustle of a plastic carrier bag which had made her rush her hands to her ears when she first installed her hearing aids. For me it was my footsteps. It took me two days to stop tiptoe-ing.
A few words with the stand-in audiologist and I was compelled to ask where he was from. 'Morpeth,' he declared, which is twenty miles from where I was brought up in Wylam. We exchanged chat on the beauty of Northumberland and how Yorkshire was a wonderful county too. But I spent the rest of the appointment with a firm hold on my replacement Nottinghamshire accent so that he wouldn't think I was taking the mickey out of his lilting vowels. Anyone who's ever changed their accent – mine principally because the scariest girl in my new class of eleven year olds told me she'd 'nut me' if I called her 'man' one more time – will know what I mean.
It was now two hours since I'd left my study. I had my notebook with me and an empty stomach so I sought out the nearest large, oh so British department store which can be found on most high streets and settled myself down with a voucher-bought coffee and scone.
'Excuse me,' said a well-dressed lady, with roll-up curls you'd like to poke your finger through and bright pink lips to match her scarf, 'didn't you have a little boy with you when you came in?' Now, I do spend half of most days in the land of the fairies and have bashed my head so frequently on open cupboard doors that I've put a conservation order out on my brain cells, but I think that even I would remember whether I had a small son (I don't) and that one of us was missing when we sat down. This led us onto teenagers (of which I do recall I have two), the generous free hot drink voucher scheme and how this lively lady was 81 and her equally adorable young friend, a trifling 76. The friends had met on a coach tour three years ago when they were both recently bereaved and were quick to tell me that the passing of their husbands was the end of any relationship with men. 'I don't want to meet a man,' the 81 year old said, 'why would I want to do that? He'd be old!' I learnt that she was a 'bit of a spender'. Today she looking for some red knee length boots and April was a great time for bargains. Currently, she'd been unsuccessful; they were all too wide for her calves. We agreed this rendered them more like wellies and wondered for whom, exactly, knee length boots were designed to fit as her (slim) friend couldn't even get them over her ankles.
Then they told me the secret of eternal youth and happiness: get out of the house.
Back on the train, I finally started writing. I was supposed to be editing but instead penned this post as I'd come over all grateful; happy to be alive. I hadn’t done the work I’d planned but decided it's a mistake not to grab life when it’s lifting our spirits. The women of-a-certain-age- reminded me of my Gran before she died at the age of 92, weakened physically by Stroke but still sparkling with joie de vivre.
I've always believed that the spirits of those close to us watch over. It isn't a particularly religious feeling, nor indeed scientific - they never see us doing anything embarrassing or hear us saying anything odd, which is helpful because in my case they'd be rolling their eyes and shaking their heads so much they'd wobble themselves out of the sky - but I do believe in ghosts. Not the white sheet variety but the Good Samaritan kind who hold your hand sometimes.
I like to think that my Gran had a smile as she watched Chatty Monday and that she’d be relieved to see that exchanging tales and giggles with strangers was still one of life's simple pleasures – when we manage to leave technology in our bags, of course.