Overheard Conversation

This post has been written for Week 4 of The Great Cake* Experiment. Why not take a look?
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If there is one thing I am grateful to the Great Cake* Experiment project for, it is that over the past few weeks since the adventure began, I have had to re-engage my cerebral muscles and put some thought into coming up with relevant posts. It’s been a while since I exercised my brain in a creative fashion, and I’m quickly coming to regard this time every week as a treat for the mind, a reward for more banal labours conducted over the course of the working week. This week, however, when trying to decide how to proceed, I drew a blank. Apart from the obvious, I didn’t come up with a clever narrative, or an engaging piece of fiction or even a tall tale of past conversations overheard (though I have, in my day heard one or two gems that would make your toes curl, oh yes). What I have realised, whilst racking my brains for some readable, even vote-winning wit, was that overhearing conversations features far more in our everyday lives than I’d ever realised.

I tried to approach this post from a number of different angles. Firstly, I considered all the times I have been stuck on some mode or other of public transport, hemmed in tight between the window, and my (due to my luck/irresistable magnetism, usually malodourous and/or oversized) co-passenger, listening to some imbecile four seats ahead regaling the bus or train with inane details of her holidays/family wedding, or some suit with an over-inflated ego asserting his authority over an unfortunate junior colleague within full earshot of at least three counties.

Upon recalling these occasions, and comparing  these assaults on my eardrums with the agony I feel every time I find myself pumping cash into the bottomless money pit that is my car, I feel vindicated in my decision to reject long-haul journeys on public transport and drive everywhere. (By ‘long-haul’ I mean anything that takes more than 30 minutes, and/or involves any kind of changeover). I’m convinced there is some mathematical formula or theorem of relativity dictating that the more inane the event being discussed, the higher the decibel level needed to discuss it. I firmly believe there should be some sort of (preferably painful) penalty imposed on such inconsiderate individuals for their complete disregard for the comfort and sanity of their fellow travellers and their unashamed levels of oblivion to resulting glares cast in their direction.  I considered re-telling one of these overheard tales as the basis for my post, but frankly, they were clearly all so mind-numbingly dull that I couldn’t recall any.

Secondly, I considered the angle of the conversation overheard in public toilet cubicles. I’m sure most of us at some stage of our lives have fallen victim to one of these overheard tête-à-têtes while we going about our business. Depending on the time of day, the location and often the amount of alcohol imbibed by the participants, the performance can provide varying levels of entertainment. Sometimes, you may even wish to join in, and again, depending on the measure of alcohol consumed, your opinion may even be welcomed enthusiastically (but only if the conversation is centring on some other poor unfortunate, and you are in agreement with the popular opinion.) The unfortunate downside of overheard conversations like these is that one wretched day as you are having some ‘you’ time in a toilet cubicle, you may find yourself as the subject, and the tone may not be generous, and no-one needs me to tell them how unpleasant that can be.  If you do ever find yourself in such an awkward position, I would heartily recommend that, rather than sit there sobbing into the toilet roll and waiting for the perpetrators to leave so you can plot your spiteful revenge in a cloud of victimhood and self-pity, you should quite brazenly march out there, wash your hands and join right in, and take gleeful pleasure in the discomfort of the instigators as they frantically attempt to backtrack. It is comforting to remember that in all likelihood, unless you are 16 years old, and are ensconced in the toilet cubicle for the sole purpose of consuming an illicit, smuggled naggin of vodka at a teenage disco, you are unlikely to find yourself in such a challenging situation, but in this day and age, you can never be too prepared.

I also, while searching for inspiration recalled times, many years ago – back in the Dark Ages, I think – where no-one owned a mobile phone, and conversations with friends and love interests could only be conducted either face-to-face or via the house landline. In my home, an extension line in the bedroom provided ample opportunity for an impatient parent to pick up the handset and interrupt either a riveting blow-by-blow analysis of the day at school or the whisperings of sweet romantic nothings from a new boyfriend by bellowing down the line from the other end of the house in a last-ditch effort to regain use of the line for more pressing matters. Recalling the calibre and cringe level of these overheard conversations, how I gaze enviously now upon my fifteen year-old sister with the array of communications gadgets she has at her disposal.

I considered the ‘voyeuristic’ nature of eavesdropping (what’s the aural equivalent of voyeuristic?). I contemplated the vast array of narrative and film that includes elements of eavesdropping. Shakespeare used the concept to great effect in many of his works, and he wasn’t alone. I learned that there are entire published academic papers dedicated to the psychology of eavesdropping. I reflected on the myriad of websites devoted to witticisms overheard – take Overheard in Dublin as a prime example of a wealth of  bizarre titbits of conversations overheard in this unfair city). I even remembered the kick I’d get while standing on the terraces at a GAA match and savouring the razor-sharp banter between supporters  (indeed, had I thought of this earlier in the evening, I could have written a short novel based on the belly laughs this has given me over the years). I wondered if we are all gossips at heart. Indeed, it dawned on me just how much of the information we glean on a daily basis stems from overheard conversations and made me conscious of my own behaviour in that regard. However, the thing that struck me most is that I never, until now realised just how much – whether we like to admit it or not – we all enjoy the occasional eavesdrop.

Out with the old….

Week 3 of the Great Cake* Experiment
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(Image: Morguefile.com)

The Art of Hoarding. The bane of many an overstuffed wardrobe, groaning attic, dusty garage and open-me-at-your-peril cupboard under the stairs, particularly in homes of a certain age. How many of us have at some point or another waded through a cold (or stiflingly hot) attic, watched warily on either side by rows of dusty, neglected boxes secured with parcel tape, hastily scribbled notes on the side, closed lids protecting their long-forgotten, musty contents? Who among us has not rifled through a crammed wardrobe full of relics from a younger age; impulse buys hanging, abandoned, labels still attached waiting in hope for that day their buyer will lose those stubborn “couple of pounds”? Time meanders on, and with it dust gathers and memories fade in these dark nooks and crannies of our homes and memories.

Spring arrives, and with it, the spring-cleaning enthusiasts. “It’s time to freshen up!” they cry. “Reclaim some living space!” “Allow energy to flow through your home!” “Out with the old!” And wearily, you may pick up your duster and your vacuum cleaner, and all the various paraphernalia, grimly determined to do a “good clear-out” and gain yourself some new space to eh, put more stuff in.

You begin, and you begin well. Before you know it, you’ve filled a black sack for the charity shop. You’re not sure about that jacket you just put in there, but you’ll leave it there for now – it’s a size too small after all, and besides, you’ve nothing that matches it. Be ruthless! Corduroy is SO three years ago. You add – not before administering a tender lingering caress – the shoes you wore to your debs  that  years ago that never quite fit and resulted in some rather spectacular week-long blisters. You discover the dress you wore that night and you smile… you’re transported back to that magical flurry of hairspray, butterflies, poorly applied fake tan and teenage traumas where times, had you only known it, were so much simpler. You decide you can’t bear to part with it, and reinstate it in its rightful place. That dress cost you six months worth of pocket money and days of agonising, and besides, your daughter (still just a twinkle in her as-yet-nameless, faceless daddy’s eye) might just wear it some day….

You move on to the bookshelves, where shockingly, there are still mementoes of your schooldays. You make a mental note to clean more often. The first thing you stumble upon is a mix tape you made when you were 17, dating from those heady days of false IDs and badly applied makeup when you started “going out out”. You look for a cassette player, and realise you don’t possess one any more. Fortunately and perhaps unsurprisingly in a house of this nature, there’s one in the attic somewhere. So up you clamber, and before long you are a teenager again, lost in the strains of Robert Palmer and The Eurythmics while you wander around the nightclub for a “lap”, guarding your vodka and orange fiercely while keeping a firm eye from on a distance upon the then-object of your affections. (Growing up in a small town, it took the big hits of the late 90s a while to reach us). You listen to Madonna and remember the sheer gut-wrenching, heart-crushing devastation of seeing the aforementioned object kissing someone else behind a pillar. Horrifically, you discover a diary from the same era. A colour-bound, dog-eared document of utter cringe, a shrine to your innocence and teenage angst. You read it and dissolve in the utter hilarity/mortification of your own tiny, all-consuming dramas. You berate your 17-year old self for being so goddamn serious and sensitive. You resolve to share these pearls of wisdom also with your own daughter if the day comes. And you place that document back on the shelf, knowing that you can’t just coldly discard those words, those pages so full of feeling. And there it sits – your own unashamed self-obsession bound in those pages forever.

You rediscover notes and letters from school friends, crammed with laughter and innocence and references to the local heroes of the time. Had the local GAA players only known the depths of appreciation that existed for their many talents… Your school yearbook. Printed emails from college friends. Cards commemorating milestone birthdays. Your very first Valentine card, and dusty pressed remains of the first red rose you ever received. Mementoes of trips taken – sunny days on the train to Dublin – what an adventure – fuelled by soft drinks and nail polish fumes. Photographs – boxes and boxes of photographs – taken long before the days when digital took over. The charity shop bag, long abandoned, sits forlornly in the middle of the floor. Time passes.

You feel a little wistful when you realise that your own daughter may never have this simple pleasure. There’ll be no lovingly written notes and scribbled cartoons to be rediscovered, just texts and electronic social media messages, quickly relegated to the digital archives. She’ll probably never know the anticipation of collecting from the pharmacy a set of prints taken during the latest night out, praying that the one shot you wanted came out okay – oh, how we cursed the automatic flash! – or leafing through a long-forgotten photo album. She will never know the sheer frustrating agony of waiting hours to tape a song off the radio, only to be scuppered by the DJ playing a request in the middle of the last verse. And you smile as you replace those precious keepsakes of a bygone era, and realise there’s a lot to be said for hoarding.

Especially now you’ve heard that corduroy will be HUGE this Autumn.

A Good Lie

This is my first post for The Great Cake* Experiment. Other posts can be found here:

http://thegreatcakeexperiment.tumblr.com/

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And so beginneth the Great Cake Experiment.

I’m a fan of Cake, myself – be it eating, baking, anticipating, throwing (yes, I’ve had those types of parties, not usually by choice) and sometimes, even just dreaming about it. The promise of some post-work tea and Cake has made many a Monday morning all the more palatable and many a Friday evening more blissful. So the promise of sharing in some Cake with lots of fellow Cake Appreciators in the future fills me with great joy, and is quite a good incentive to confront the deep-seated sense of apprehension I feel about sharing my inane ramblings with real people. But I digress. This post isn’t meant to be about Cake, as much as I’d like it to be.

So… back on topic. A Good Lie. What makes a good lie? Hmmm. At this point, if I were even a generation older, I’d be chewing on my pencil, scrunching up lots of paper into little balls and aiming them unsuccessfully at the wicker waste-paper basket in the corner. Unfortunately, modern technology has ensured that such simple, if environmentally catastrophic pleasures are now no longer available (I mean, who uses wicker waste-paper baskets these days?). I have briefly considered writing a post about golf; where good lies are relatively simple affairs, but that would just be taking the easy way out, and would doubtless make for terminally boring reading. O, Cakemistress, this is a tough one for a rusty writer, I cannot lie, in a good way or otherwise.

The very concept of lying is something that we are taught, almost as soon as we can talk, is wrong. The ironic reality though, is that life, as we live it each day is interspersed with lies. Today, in a bid to get ‘in the zone’ for writing this post, I resolved to be aware of examples of lies – good or otherwise – around me. I woke at 8am, feeling like muck. The last thing the world I wanted to do was open the blinds and admit defeat to the morning light, but sometimes needs (and rent) must. So when my housemate asked me over morning tea/frantic ironing how I was, why, I’d had a wonderful night’s sleep and was full of enthusiasm at the prospect of a day full of meetings about meetings. Bing, Bing! Two lies, and I wasn’t even dressed yet.

Lie #3 followed a similar conversation with a colleague who enquired after my wellbeing, but in my defence, I only told one of the above lies. Bing! Lie #4 was via email to a close friend who’d asked for a favour. Bing! Yes, in all honesty it was some trouble, and yes, it was a minor inconvenience but you don’t know how rubbish I’m feeling today, I would do anything for you, and you would do the same for me in a heartbeat, so telling you it’s no trouble at all doesn’t really count as a lie, right? Lie #5 was to another colleague – “Yes Michael, I’ve almost finished that, I’ll send it on to you shortly…” B… oh you get the picture. (In case you are Michael, and you are reading this, I had some PC issues earlier…… bing.) And so on, and so forth. By lunchtime, I was seriously questioning my integrity and re-evaluating my perception of myself as a decent person. By 4pm, I was projecting, and regarding my colleagues with deep suspicion, convinced that if I was such a compulsive liar, I couldn’t possibly be the only one.

At 7pm, my mother lied to me. “I’m fine. I’m feeling much better today”. My endearingly honest father set the record straight. Bing!

By 10pm I’d stumbled across a rather uncomfortably relevant article about Facebook Fakers – those who use their Facebook, Twitter and various other social media accounts to project false information and portray the image of the ‘perfect’ life (‘Perfect’ by definition meaning having lots of friends – real or virtual, being tagged in lots of photos teetering on gravity-defying heels and looking impossibly glamorous with said friends, preferably with a glass of wine in hand – but never with anyone who’s hotter than you – meeting celebrities, and tweeting from various cool must-be-seen-in locations, while in reality you may actually be stuffing your face with cheesecake from the fridge whilst wearing a face mask, fluffy socks and watching the Late Late Show. For non-Irish readers, watching the Late Late Show is a very non-Perfect-Life thing to do on a Friday night.) Apparently, this is just the beginning, and very soon we will all be appraising our lives, not by our own happiness, but by what others approve of. Or so the ’experts’ say.

By midnight, I’d stopped questioning it, and realised that lies are everywhere.

So the question remains, what makes a ‘good’ lie? This is where the line blurs. What is ‘good’? Who defines it? Indeed, if lying is so prevalent, does it even count as lying anymore?

I suppose a ‘bad’ lie is one with negative consequences for others. A lie in work, told because you don’t want to expose your lack of knowledge or experience, can have consequences for your colleagues. They may have to forsake their time to help you out of a rut. They may even tell you that it’s “fine” and “no trouble at all” Bing! Telling someone you love you’re happy in a relationship, because they’re not in a good place, and you feel telling them otherwise may damage them is a Bad Lie. Telling someone you’re ill, to elicit some pity or because you haven’t delivered on something you should have, that’s a Bad Lie. Lying to yourself, and trying to be someone you’re not to preserve the status quo, that’s one of the worst lies of all. (On the other hand, saying “oh, didn’t you get my text earlier?” just makes you a bad liar.)

After much thought therefore, while lying as a hobby is a bad pastime, there are varying degrees of untruth. If a Bad Lie is one with negative consequences for others, then conversely, a Good Lie is one without. Telling a mate I’m fine in the morning because I don’t want to burden her with my feelings when she’s going through a rough time herself, y’know what,  that’s a good lie. (Particularly when I, in all likelihood will feel fine by lunchtime.) Telling a stressed colleague you’ve something under control, even when you don’t, is a good lie, if it calms them (but only if you frantically begin to get it under control immediately, otherwise, it’s a Bad Lie). Telling your friend you won’t make a fuss of her birthday – in fact, you might not even be around that weekend, but then surprising her with something that makes her feel really special and loved, that’s a Good Lie. Sometimes we compromise ourselves and in doing so, compromise the truth a little in order to make other people feel good. There’s a fine line, and we often teeter on the rope, but sometimes, telling a Good Lie will make all the difference to someone else, and where’s the harm in that?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to change my Facebook profile photo to the Face Mask and Cheesecake Horror shot…..