‘You’re not a typical P******** employee,’ I ventured.
‘Aren’t I?’ she replied.
‘No. Is this job temporary?’
‘I don’t expect to stay here very long.’
‘I’d say you have a degree.’
‘Well there you are.’
Oddly, she didn’t ask how I knew. I didn’t, of course, it’s just that when you’ve eschewed the normal human imperative to connect with people and followed a course of incessant observation instead, you can tell quite a lot about a person before you’ve even spoken to them. So much is revealed by the eyes, the set of the mouth, their body language and their general bearing. This young woman appeared affable, relaxed, confident, and eminently capable of holding an easy, intelligent conversation, so guessing she had a degree was most unlikely to be wrong given her age and the ways of the times. She smiled throughout the transaction, and it was a genuine smile.
* * *
The couple in the coffee shop were very different. I was standing in the queue at the counter when I heard a piping woman’s voice from my left.
‘... and get me a piece of Belgian chocolate tiffin.’
The man to my right, who was ahead of me in the queue, was tall, angular, and had an odd sort of bearing which I won’t even try to describe.
‘What?’ he replied.
‘A piece of Belgian chocolate tiffin.’
‘A piece of what?’
‘Belgian chocolate tiffin!’
‘Belgian chocolate what?’
At that point I had to intervene:
‘Tiffin,’ I repeated with contrived authority. ‘It comes originally from the term for afternoon tea during the British Raj in India.’
He said nothing, but stared at me for longer than seemed normal in the circumstances. A piping voice, rendered louder and more strident through evident frustration, assailed my left ear again:
‘A PIECE OF BELGIAN CHOCOLATE TIFFIN!’
‘Alright, alright, there’s no need to shout. The gentleman just told me what you said.’
And that was just one of many odd encounters which kept tapping me on the shoulder in Ashbourne today, mostly involving men. (Oh, apart from the elderly woman with a walking frame who pushed me aside at the coffee shop counter so that she could reach out and touch the charity donations box placed there. ‘Are you looking for something?’ I asked. Her reply was quiet and totally incomprehensible, and then she left at a pace rather less than leisurely.)