Over here, overheard, overcome.

Then he said to me...

I’m an inveterate eavesdropper, as the Gentleman Caller has had cause to note. Well, the conversation on the adjoining restaurant table can be sooo fascinating…

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.


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