Have you ever passed people in the street, or stood behind someone in the queue in a shop, and overheard a snatch of conversation that has intrigued you so much that you wanted to hear more, but could not as they had moved on as quickly as they arrived?
One place in which you may hear hundreds of such snippets in just a single day is the shopping mall, particularly in the build up to Christmas when the numbers of its parishioners escalate.
The Bluewater shopping centre in Kent is the fourth largest in the UK in terms of retail space, and the sixth biggest in Europe. The following quotations were all overheard by myself on a trip there on Monday 19th December. Some are amusing, others intriguing and some just plain weird. The common denominator is that I neither heard what was said before or after – those words, the context in which the comments were made – are lost forever.
Whilst you might be thinking that my behaviour bordered on the creepy side, I should state that acute observation of people is a fundamental requirement for any writer. Moreover, Former Press Secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Moyers, claimed that eavesdropping was the only place in which you could truly “delve into the life of our times”. And with not one person either casting me a quizzical look or uttering a cross word during this exercise, I must have some talent for it!
I had originally intended to “explain” each comment by reference to the location in which it was made and the gender and approximate age of the speaker. But I think the majority speak for themselves.
I have confined the number to 20, though I collected many more (which I promise not to inflict on you unless you insist):
1. I’ve got to get one that’s got a slit all the way down.
2. Because my calves are quite big I had to have the zip adjusted last year.
3. I’ve gotta try and find one that hasn’t got that mark on it.
4. Shall we ‘ave a look in ‘ere while we’re ‘ere?
5. Mum, come and look, come and look, they’ve got a Bristol.
6. Billy, you run off one more time and I’ll cancel Santa.
7. Forty five quid? I could make that for a tenner.
8. If I don’t get me money back I’ll kill ’em.
9. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s Southern Comfort ‘e likes, not Jack Daniel’s.
10. I can’t afford presents like that. I’m at Uni.
11. I bought ‘er some books off Amazon. She don’t read but they were SO cheap.
12. Time for lunch. So what’s it to be – sushi or McDonald’s?
13. Alfie, there’s a spare table over there. Quick, get it!
14. I’ve bought all this lot and I’ve hardly started on my list.
15. Oh…. my…. God, it’s got a Hollister!
16. See, I told ya, Bluewater’s way more poncy than Lakeside.
17. If we keep going we’ll end up outside.
18. After all that, I need Starbuck’s.
19. That’ll do. I can’t be bovvered to look any longer.
20. We can’t go home yet, we’ve still got Mummy’s present to get.
I think a number of those comments would be heard in any other shopping mall in any other town on any other day because, understandably, they reflect many of the preoccupations of modern life – money, obsession with appearance, thraldom to designer names, tainted by desperation in many cases. The only surprising omission was any reference to The X Factor, The Only Way is Essex, and many other alleged celebrity TV shows, or what manufactured and over-hyped song would be the Christmas Number 1 – but maybe I just struck lucky.