So I was thrilled to hear about Bugged, a literary venture that legitimises said eavesdropping and – tada! – turns it into art. The idea is to listen out for those poignant, funny, intriguing or downright surreal comments, and use them as the starting point for a short piece of fiction. The big eavesdropping day is 1 July, but we were encouraged to get in a little practice.
So I opened my ears and went around Bloomsbury with great anticipation. It started well. ‘It’s like carrot cake, but without the carrots,’ explained one passer-by to another. So, cake, then.
And I remembered an old favourite, from a crowded train carriage. The archetypal loud businessman was shouting into his mobile phone, droning on and on about some work issue or other. Then: ‘Can I tell you something in confidence?’ he bawled.
It took a moment of twitching lips and covert glances, but soon the whole carriage was laughing aloud. It cheered up what could have been a very long journey – and to his credit, he realised, and cut the conversation short.
Walking down Museum Street last night, I heard one chap enthusiastically exclaim to another: ‘You’re going to see some fantastic mountains!’ Oh, I wondered, where are you going? Take me with you? I’d like to see fantastic mountains, too. It was like a breath of Alpine air in the muggy London street.
However. There have been a few things I rather wish I hadn’t heard. The first, sitting in a park relaxing in the sun. A woman on her mobile phone, voice becoming louder, shriller, more distressed. I won’t quote her; although I began by listening with interest, I soon felt cheap for listening and sorry for her distress.
Then outside my flat, a row between a young couple. Again, the volume rose with the emotions. There were shouted accusations, tears, pleas. He left, she sat defeated on the ground and wept.
A third time, passing a playground. A couple shrieking abuse at each other, using four letter words from the upper ends of the abusive spectrum. Playing round their feet, two children aged around 3 and 5. How long before they were repeating those words to school friends, teachers, strangers?
This type of eavesdropping – involuntary, for the most part – leaves me feeling distinctly queasy. I’m sure someone could make a fantastic poem about the young woman’s dilemma, or the couple’s argument. Maybe even a witty poem about the children’s take on the adult’s shouting match. But probably not me.
Image: My own, couple taking a breather outside Clare Court on Judd Street.