Friday, 26 August 2011

So, tell me a little bit about yourself...

Lots of mums at the park yesterday had badly dyed hair. The lighter hair which had been dyed looked like it had been done with a running-out felt-tip pen. The darker dyed hair looked that purple/brown/red/black hue which emerges after washing a cheap black t-shirt 73 times and leaving it to dry in the sun.

Some women had taken great care with their appearance; full make-up , coordinated clothes, new shoes and costume jewellery. Some were wearing clothes I'd even be loathe to put on to creosote the fence.

I was struck by the associations I made in my mind just by looking at people. The ladies with top of the range pushchairs, highlighted hair and coordinated clothes - they would have a spotless house, big TV and have probably been to Spain to get that tan. Their partner works in garage and plays football on the weekend.

There is a clique which I am familiar with, but have no desire to enter, despite them all being pleasant and intelligent. Whenever I eavesdrop on their conversation, there seems to be an element of bragging. While they may not be bragging about upgrading from a 32" TV to a 50", bragging is still bragging and I can't stand it. The odd amusing anecdote being exchanged about your kids is one thing, but harping on as if they are child prodigies impresses nobody. I read it as either poor social skills and insecurity or as projection ( I can't brag about MYSELF so I'll harp on about how great my kids are, it's the same thing).

If it's not the children they're showing off about, it's what they had for dinner (and you can guarantee it'll be healthier, tastier, more complex and more responsibly-sourced than yours). These mums are all dressed like 90's new age travellers.

I like small-talk, and feel it's underrated. Sitting next to a stranger and managing to find clues as to their lifestyle and background is like a game for me. Most people seem happy to chat for hours about themselves, even talking about quite personal details.

Very often, when I've stumbled upon a particularly self-absorbed individual, I curse myself for ever letting them see my 'tell me more' expression.  Gruesome details about operations and the minutiae of someone's diet being the least favourite topics.

It's usually grandparents I talk to at the park, they seem to have more confidence and time. Many parents come to the park en masse, or if they're alone, stay for no more than 10 minutes.
I like looking for patterns in conversation and usually find the same things seem to matter to people of certain age groups.
By around 60 years of age, I notice most women have a very rigid routine. "I go to Marks and Spencer's every Thursday, and I buy their tins of chunky chicken - have you tried it? I'll just open a tin of that for me and my husband, and we have potatoes and peas with it, something easy because I'm looking after my granddaughter".
I will reply with a blatant lie, such as "that sounds nice".

I often feel a bit worried, am I going to have more time one day, children grown up and left home?  I'll be working part-time or maybe even retired (if something miraculous happens to our finances) and all I'll do with this spare time is stretch out the mundane crap I have to do, and make it seem like a whole day is needed to wipe around the toilet and put some tea towels on the washing line before making a ham sandwich?

I'm not suggesting that people become boring or set in their ways at a certain age, that wouldn't be fair because all of the most interesting people I know are a lot older than me.I just don't want another 3 decades to pass and still be waiting to win the lottery, feel healthy and have bags of free time.

Anyway, yesterday I sat by a young mum of 3 who looked poor and shy. It turns out I was right about the poor bit, not the shy. Initiating the conversation with confidence, she seemed like someone who was going to relate her entire life story to me from as far back as she could remember.
I wasn't prepared to find out how it feels to be on the other side - this girl wanted to know all about ME. I tried all my deflection tricks, none of them worked.

By the end of the afternoon she knew my children's ages, names, the schools they go to and what food they like/dislike. My name, age, work history, interests and marital status. Where I shop for groceries, what films I like, what parts of my body I hate - all this was skilfully gleaned. Despite it not being my kind of conversation, we discussed celebrities we'd like to look like, (she chose Cheryl Cole, I chose Christy Turlington - which shows how long it's been since I last thought along those lines because I had a paper round when she first caught my eye on the cover of Vogue).

I was beaten at my own game, by a girl ten years younger than me, a girl who seemingly had little in common with me.
I thought about it afterwards, she's got three children, had her first at 21, she doesn't work, doesn't socialise with other mums because it's "hard work when you're tryin' to keep an eye on the kids", she brings her own food to the park "cos it's cheaper" and loves a bit of small-talk,

We had plenty in common.


  1. People watching in the park is so interesting - there's a Mum I often see when I'm in our local park reading my book; she seems genuinely interested in actually talking to her children, it never seems like they're a chore for her. I hope I'm that sort of Mum if I have children of my own one day :-)

    Jem xXx

  2. It’s heartening to hear that some mums do actually talk to their children. Next week I’ve got two whole weeks of talking to my grandchildren...and listening, as they love to chat. Can’t wait!

    I’m a bit disturbed about the 60 year-olds with the M&S tinned chicken - it sounds ghastly. I’m not quite in that age group ...not long though...but I abhor the idea of a routine; I had years of that in my working life which was ruled by the school bell. Give me a bit of variety.

    Oh and as for the future - in three decades time you’ll be retired on the fortune you have made from your bestselling novels and journalism. Will you still remember us then?

  3. oh yes there are plenty of 'the clique' here especially at a certain toddler group I was dragged along to several times by a school friend who assured me I would love it. Straight through the door and I was met by the 'breastapo' who looked horrified that I had bought a bottle with me to fed my 3 month old. Well Im sure they would have bragged that their own branded milk was better than mine anyway ;o) Scarlett x

  4. My Mum used to have her routine when she was older, and I vowed that I wouldn't. So far I'm doing fine, but that could just be because I'm not very organised! Like you, I have my deflecting techniques when asked personal questions - not often people get passed that - she must have been good!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  5. Most out of character for me I was Marks and Spencer's yesterday and felt so depressed at the legions of blue rinsed grannies just on the way back from the weekly visit to the hairdresser and "treating themselves" to a box of chocolate eclairs. Everyone knew everyone else and even the checkout ladies called them by name. If I ever develop a routine like that I will despair.
    That young mum sounded like a top interogator. It's a Midland's trait to confront strangers with a barrage of questions. x

  6. I often sit and watch others in the park, oh yes and eavesdrop in on conversations! whoops

    Mich x

  7. The only thing I can compare this to is taking my dog to the dog park. When I lived in Hollywood it was part of my daily routine, but there was never anything routine about it. This park was filled with all kinds of designer dogs and there somewhat celebrity parents. We had make-up artists, set dressers, pyro tech guys, cinematographers, gaffers, grips, you name it. It was a gossip party of epic proportions. I talk to all kinds of people there and saw some of the weirdest dogs to date. I learned a lot about people by going to the dog park :)

  8. Somehow I don't picture you stretching out the mundane crap when you have more time. I think you'll be doing something a lot more interesting xx

  9. I was in my local town centre yesterday and found myself observing the over 65's rummaging through the PerUna clothes racks. Then I popped into their cafe (I like their coffee and if I buy a certain number of coffees, I then get a free one) and saw a similar group of over 65's in their, chatting over their milky coffees. They were happy enough but I couldn't help but feel slightly panicked that I would be like them one day. (apologies to my mum but I really would like to do something interesting with my life before I rely on my weekly custard tart and coffee.)


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