Friday, 30 September 2011

Watching you watching me to see you looking back at me

This week I've been staring a lot at people I don't know personally, but have noticed them 'around'.
Some of these people look back at me with a hint of recognition in their eyes. I'm probably "that woman who's always pushing a screaming kid around town".

This brief, extra late Indian Summer, though welcome, and very much expected by me, is strange. The park smelt rotten, the festering, damp, autumnal mulch, intensified by the alien heat rays. 

I got to the park early every day to enjoy the initial peace and increasing warmth with my monkey of a son;  the squirrels, birds and the park keeper our only company.

By 10:45, the squirrels are hiding and out come the pigeons, ready for some of Greggs' finest crumbs, dropped by the hoards of toddlers who arrive.  Peace will be restored in under 24 hours, until then,  goodbye park, I have been frequenting you all my life and will never completely give up on you.

As I exit the park, I recoil by HSBC bank. The "loud, chopsy thin woman" which is a rather poor nickname (coined by my mum) is even thinner. If she was 7 stone before, she now looks less than 6, a walking corpse; skin like flaps of peeling PVA glue hang from jutting spiky bones. Her voice is now ghoulish, I can imagine her saying "help meeee" in a terrifying whisper. She no longer chats for too long to the charity shop volunteers, she's fading. I don't think she's as old as she looks (which is about 190) and I think she is clever, though she seems like a 'difficult' person. I stare and recoil a few more times - how can someone so poorly be out and about?

In the market, I see a man who scares me, if I'm near him in a shop I go all cold and tense. I'd say he's in his mid to late 60's, he never smiles, there is no evidence of an emotion, positive or negative, on his face. It's the upright walk which unnerves me, that and the eyes of a shark.

A new addition to my 'I've seen you before' file, intrigues me. I reckon I'll get to know her one day, she seems worth getting to know. I like her clothes and the way she looks up, not just around. I'd say she's in her mid forties, lives alone, and suffers from depression - her eyes look quite sad, like they're desperate to be rinsed out with cold water and shown a bright picture.

The last in today's list is a lady who has lost it. Once, she looked the part. In the 80s she 'nailed' (I hate he use of that word all the time) the big hair, frosted lips and stiletto-revealing toe-cleavage look. Time has been unkind, and I reckon moving on (there goes another crap term) would be a good idea. Ordering all the discontinued 'Sky Blue Pink' Constance Caroll lipsticks from some obscure website, still back-combing her hair even though it's brittle and grey, and spraying an emphysema-inducing amount of Insette hairspray to hold it in place, has done her no favours. She doesn't smile. She used to smile a lot. I bet she's got bunions.

When I become "the woman who USED to push a screaming kid around town" I hope I look happier, not sad and lost.

Do you have any nicknames for local strangers? 
Rob and I have hundreds. Just in a small section of the street we have: 

'My Ex' (so called because he asked me on a date once when I first moved in - I declined)

'Your mate' (I call the guy who lives over the road Rob's mate because Rob fixed his  computer once. He lives in the dirtiest house imaginable and is rather eccentric, very much NOT Rob's mate)

'Snoop Dogg' (He lives opposite and is never without his dog. Seems a nice guy, but has the worst hairdo; fringe which comes to his eyebrows, long hair to his shoulders; cut short at the sides for his ears to poke out. Oh, and a moustache to complete the look. And 70's addidas track suits which would fetch a tidy sum on ebay)

I'm a very nosey neighbour.


  1. Do you ever see my nan walking around town? I think she's one of the more eccentric characters. She has short dyed hair (sometimes red, sometimes orange, sometimes yellow)and chats to everyone she bumps into: she knows everyone in Ponty. She's often in the charity shops and occasionally wears the most fabulous furry leopard print hat, stuffed with newspaper because it's too large for her head.

    I make her sound crazier than she is! She is a little crazy but only in an utterly charming way.

  2. Beautiful view behind the play area there. I avoid them when they're busy too. Hubby took Claud there at peak play time last week and she spat at by a 4 year old. Spat at! Good job I wasn't there! Anyway we have 'two dog' here, he's a guy an old hippy guy who cycles everwhere and always has the same clothes on. Years ago he had two dogs who used to run alongside, but the died one by one but he's still 'two dog' to pretty much the whole town. We used to have "lefty' who was an adult with leaning difficulties. He too cycled all the time, forever calling out "left", "left" "left". Not that original! x

  3. I do have some nicknames of strangers. The staring in unreal in Paris, people actually start at the feet and slowly look you up and down. Unsettling to say the least. Thanks for all your warm comments, really cheered me xxx

  4. Hello Lucy:
    We have, of course, simply loved this post for, like you, we are fascinated by people and love to watch and then make up stories. And, yes, as you may possibly imagine, we invent names which can, very occasionally, be a little dangerous as there have been times when we have been caught out. But at least all of these people, and it is clearly the same for you, do have something about them which makes them worth observing. So much better than being one of the unseen mass.

  5. Your writting is like urban poetry! I think that people refer to me as 'the disabled woman' which is why I love blogging, people look more deeply!

    Mind you I call my neigbour 'the jock' as she is Scottish!

  6. Loren - yes, I've seen her! I'm pretty sure we've exchanged pleasantries - she is funny without ever trying. Advanced Style is where she belongs.

    Max - I really struggle with a full park. People don't leave their children to play these days. They shadow every move, and leave no room for creativity orlearning through experience. I believe awareness of safety comes once youve had your head bashed a couple of times.
    Spitting - how is a young child supposed to know it's revolting - all you can do is say "no, stop it" etc and hope it doesn't become a habit. For now it is just an interesting body function she's learned. Oh, my attitude to behaviour goes down a STORM with the older generation, as you can well imagine.
    Love the 2 dogs, laughed when I read that at 4 am!

    Comtesse - what a good job you always look so hot! I'd be mortified by that level of examination (but secretly do it myself to everyone!). I dressed a bit colourfully the other day and an 8 year old girl at the school said "you look a little bit silly". I had to thank her.

    Jane and Lance - how I'd love to be a fly on the wall during your dissection of the days' people-watching highlights. Failing that, how I'd love to join you.

    Annie - I reckon it'd be 'the glamorous woman'. Good point about blogging, it's a great way to quell stereotypes. Thanks for the 'urban poetry' comment - I liked that

  7. Excellent post. Lots of characters here too, but I'm not sure I could do them justice in the way you did. Very vivid image of the 'chopsy' woman. Urban poetry is exactly what you do Lucy!

    I was at the park yesterday with E. Stunning weather, the 'alien heat rays' had removed all traces of water and it was (is) like being in the south of France. The only difference was the proliferation of casual sportswear.

  8. Oh yeas, I'm always making up names and persona's for the people I see at car boots and charity shops. Second-hand shopping seems to attract such characters.
    I'm in awe of Loren's description of her Grandmother, I'd love to see her.
    My favourites are "The Missing Stone", a guy in his mid-sixties with the kind of ravaged looks that having a hedonistic past could create, shoulder length hair, a splendid silver ring on each finger, rake thin with flares and a tab collared shirt.
    There's "'Nam", another guy in his sixties with long hair, John Lennon glasses and army fatigues and Jean Shrimpton, a lady who was probably at her best in 1966, frosted blonde beehive, mini skirts, shrimp-paste coloured lipstick and buckled court shoes.

  9. Lucy I love the images your eloquent writing paint in my mind. This one even included smell, I really could almost smell the rotten dampness of the park as the day warmed up. I envy your ability to not only express yourself but to do it so dam well!

    I don't have too many nick names for neighbors except for pervert next door. I think we all know one or ten of them.

  10. Oh yes, I do this all the time, mainly with people I vaguely recognise from the school playground but also random local folk. There is 'Crackhead', who I may be much maligning but really does look like that awful poster of the pretty girl who ages about 40 years in 5. She has that jerky walk and sunken cheeks. And 'Scary mum' who boy2 has been known to point at and loudly ask whether "that's a man or a lady?"

    Oddly, I'm always convinced that whilst I'm spotting people, I'm completely invisible to them. I find it very odd to be recognised, even though I seem to have one of those faces which makes people think I went to school with their sister.

  11. There are a couple of fairly familiar faces on my street. Chair Man - seems a lovely old chap who is very ill with something, makes me sad to see him staring dolefully out of the window each day but he gives me a smile when I wander past and wave. The Shouters; couple over the road who argue a couple of times per week, have lost count of the number of times Mr Shouter has stormed out, slammed the gate and sped off in his shed of a car. Bag Lady - in the grand tradition of British bag ladies she goes out in her slippers to buy gin, cat food and little else. She puffs away on a cigarette marching down the hill and wheezes her way back up.

    Funny how people who are almost completely unknown can form part of your daily routine!

    Jem xXx

  12. please take a picture of snoop dog, i must see this individual

  13. Oh yes I love giving people nicknames, my friends and I still have the laugh about the nicknames people we used to see on our nights out in the single years.

    There are a couple of people in my town who have a nicknames used by all, one is the "clappy man". He's a very old man who always wears a vest and tracksuit bottoms and a huge pair of gloves. He walks miles around the town each day clapping cars as they pass, apparently the urban legend is that he does it because his wife and child were killed in a car accident many years ago and he has clapped cars everyday since as a way remembrance. Im not sure if the story is true but its so sad if it is. He is always such a lonely figure. Scarlett x

  14. Great descriptions. Makes me think about some of the characters I see around in my town. There used to be the old ex-serviceman who always sat in our local shopping centre talking to everyone, reminiscing about the war and sporting his medals. He was a familiar site so when he died recently many people felt a sense of loss. There are a few other interesting characters who I can think of as well. Its interesting how unknown people like these can feel known to us and form part of our lives. Deb

  15. Ben - I just KNOW you wore a pale blue Lonsdale vest and Umbro 3/4 white shorts. I'm right, aren't I?

    Vix - I be everyone knows who you are! I can just picture the guys you described, great nicknames.

    Krista - what a lucky perv your neighbour is with you to lust after!

    Lakota - the crackhead look is all the rage here. I watched a programme about crystal meth and that stuff is a sure way to get that classic 'extra from the Thriller video' look.

    Jem - I felt sad after reading about chair man. I have some shouters too - I love listening to them, which is not right, is it?

    J. Littlejohn - I'd love to capture Snoop for you (on film, you inderstand, not kidnap him). The warm weather means one thing for Snoop - the white translucent vest comes out, revealing an alarming brush of chest hair.

    Scarlett - another sad tale, though I'm puzzled as to why he'd be clapping at cars. There's a guy called Ninjah who 'drums' on the bins - he is very talented and has become famous - here he is, a striking chap

    Deb - one woman used to fascinate me, as her and her daughter had very unusual hair. I ended up working with her, and am going to her wedding this weekend. You do feel these characters are so familiar that you already know them

  16. Really enjoyed this post. I don't tend to people watch when out and about though we do have a few nicknames for people, one being "snooty drawers" for a girl who lives in the area and is probably the snootiest and most stuck up 20 year old I've ever met, and I'd better not tell you any other names because I don't want to lower the tone of this blog!

    You've won my caption competition by the way! Can you pop over and email me your address then I can get some chocolate in the post to you....

    CJ xx

  17. My big bro is the one who gave nicknames to everything that moved. I don't really have nicknames for my neighbours except the fucking couple on the corner, the Fifth Columnists who spied on my eldest son and then found out who his father is, rang him up and betrayed my son. They denied it, but I know it was them. I told the police too. They were on Spy Watch for a time. I told my son never to speak to them ever again.

    The others in the village are most fairly colourless type B for bourgeois. They might be colourful at home, but out, they act out the robotic behaviour of their social standing.

  18. You are too funny Lucy. There is an old man who goes to all the charity shops. He is incredibly smelly and once a volunteer actually sprayed the place he'd been standing to pay for his goods, once he'd gone. The strangest thing is that he has an artificial ear that he straps on that's the least lifelike representation of an ear I've ever seen in my life and is the colour of curdled milk. I call him, with great imagination, 'Plastic Ear Man'. I also convinced the kids when they were younger that a very small old man we saw regularly was a retired jockey. They were naturally fascinated and looked at him with such interest that the poor little chap was quite perturbed and used to cross to the other side of the road when he saw us in the distance. This is 'Retired Jockey'. My granny (hardly need to tell you I'm talking about Babcia's mum, do I?) used to call any woman with a big chest 'Tit Fer Loll' and she reserved the special insult of 'Icky Plush, the Man With The Velvet Arse' for any male she perceived as being snooty and/or lazy. Oh yes, we're a classy clan and no mistake.

    K xxx

  19. Hi again,
    I thought this was beautiful, it actually made me cry. That probably makes me sound weird.
    !I'd say she's in her mid forties, lives alone, and suffers from depression - her eyes look quite sad, like they're desperate to be rinsed out with cold water and shown a bright picture.'
    I love your writing. It makes me feel nostalgic and hopeful. Your writing has a very special something. x


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