Although it hurts me to say it, after years of believing myself to be quiet and unsociable, I have had to accept that this may not accord with reality. It would seem that, if anything, a more apt description might be gregarious and talkative. It is true that I will speak to complete strangers, asking them questions or sharing ideas and observations. Indeed it would be rare for me to say nothing to a neighbour during, for example, a train journey. However, I usually immerse myself in a newspaper or homework, and only later do I surface and start to chat. The problem has been that talking is something I enjoy and which I have always seen as normal. In truth, when others have said that I am unusually talkative, I have not understood the point they are making.
Despite being a quasi-compulsive talker, one morning last week the tables were turned and, for almost an hour, circumstances conspired to keep me quiet. It was a revelation.
It all started on the way to the station. The young man ahead of me threw a cigarette pack onto the pavement. I readied myself to ask him to pick it up, but as I opened my mouth so did a woman close by. Having arrived from nowhere she started shouting at this litter lout – as she put it – accusing him of anti-social behaviour and demanding he pick up the offending packet immediately. Looking guilty, he did just that and, for my part, I had been spared the need to say anything.
A little later, when I was on the train heading for central London, the carriage was joined by a woman whose tummy was of such a size that it made her ‘baby-on-board’ badge redundant. The carriage was packed and she was left standing, soon becoming flushed and agitated. But no one moved. Then, just as I was about to ask the boy sitting almost under her belly to offer up his seat, a young woman behind me first shouted at me to tell the errant boy to stand up and then, almost in the same breath, screeched at the boy directly demanding that he move. He quickly got up, the pregnant woman took his place and the problem was resolved. In normal circumstances I would have spoken out, but again, there was no need for me to say a word and ironically, on this occasion I was reprimanded for keeping quiet.
Finally, with just two stations to go, I noticed a well-dressed, professional-looking woman in her late 20s standing by the exit with her eyes glued to a copy of the Racing Post. Her choice of reading material was so unusual that I was keen to know more. The Racing Post is a 100-page daily dedicated exclusively to sport, and with the particular mission to provide information related to betting. No politics, no everyday news, no fashion, no family interest articles, just page after page of predictions, betting odds and results primarily concerning ‘the horses’, but any sport will do.
I stood up a little earlier than needs be before my stop and made my way towards the exit, giving me time to ask her my question. As I got closer I saw a man nearby start to question her and, through a combination of lip-reading and listening, I realised that his thoughts were similar to mine. As the conversation went on I learned that she was an administrator on the paper, that it was part of her responsibility to read it from time-to-time, that she herself never gambled and that she was very worried about those for whom betting was compulsive. And all this transpired with me, once again, a mute bystander.
While it was odd saying nothing, taking a back seat and being a silent spectator was rather relaxing. Maybe, deep down, I am unsociable after all. Whatever my label, I am thinking of relaxing in this way more often.
Footnote. I phoned a man at The Racing Post who confirmed my assessment. From their various readership surveys, if someone is seen reading their paper, which is itself is unusual, the odds against the reader being a woman aged around thirty are 333 to 1!