1 Sep An Aspergic couple
Sunday morning and there is the most wondrous image in front of me in the coffee shop. I am pretty certain she is the most colourfully dressed lady I have ever encountered. Vivid, saturated colours in her top, pastel colours in hat and trousers. Even more, her eye-liners sported an array of bright colours, with a sprinkling of gold dust on her cheeks. Naturally, I had to proclaim to her how wonderful she looked.
Jess and her companion Josh turned out to both be Aspergic, yet flamboyantly clothed as if seasoned extroverts about to go on stage. They were gentle in nature and lovely to talk with. She is also an artist, like myself (although I am more a former artist I have to admit). Jess showed me on her phone some of her (many) paintings. The colours were as scintillating as her clothing. Almost naive in style, they really did look wonderful, vivid of colour and expression as far as the little thumbnails could reveal.
I have always endorsed saturated colours in art -pastel seems too often to be a flawed, limited compromise, a kind of denial of the possible. She also showed me an amazingly realistic drawing she had done of one of her relatives. Clearly, she is technically gifted as well as aesthetically so. I gave them a draft copy of this book to read and (hopefully) feed back. It may be that they were relatively shy, so it might be enlightening to hear of a similarly Aspergic introvert talking with strangers.
I was itching to ask to photograph Jess. But it felt wrong. Clearly not so wrong, though, as she said they were actually setting off to be photographed.
4 Sep Frankie on Instagram
Coffee #1 and no seats in the sun to be had anywhere. Doh! Upstairs I came across a frowning Talia, working at her laptop. It was great to see her again. She looked as calm, beautiful and serene as ever, in spite of her focus of attention. I said to her that I preferred to talk with her face to face rather than electronically as the former is so much more meaningful. She agreed.
But it was very noisy upstairs so I bade my farewell after that brief chat and ventured downstairs and out into the garden. As I passed a lady reading in the conservatory I stopped to ask her about the book she was absorbed in.
She said that it was a novel from her childhood that she was returning to. These words she spoke were delivered with the most wondrous smile. I told her how nice she smiled, never seeming to tire of saying that. I asked if she was a keen reader. When she declared that she was indeed an avid reader, I gave her a copy of "Balancing Act".
I eventually found my way to the comfy chair in the window, immediately opened the window 'doors and basked in the warm sun. After a while, Talia appeared on her way out of the cafe, and we had a longer chat. This was delightful. We were both more relaxed than in the mayhem upstairs.
At one point, she said that she had discovered that I had made an appearance on Instagram. Or to be more precise, a photo of my book and nice words had appeared. The lady I had given the book to a little while earlier turned out to be Frankie, one of Talia's Christian friends.
It is indeed a small world. Frankie told Talia that she was excited to get the book as it kind of restored her faith in humanity -that some stranger can give with no sign of seeking to receive back.
It is easy for me to give, so it is not something particularly special that I do. Besides, I find it really nice to share the thoughts and ideas that I have expressed in my books.
Little did I know that a short book such as mine was a welcome addition to the hundred book reading project she was undertaking.
5 Sep The boy in the window
As I passed a boy in the park on my way to Waterloo tea shop, we both said hello to each other. I am not sure who spoke first. When I found my seat outside, I turned around to discover that he was inside, waving back to me. I went inside and spoke with his mother who said that he was indeed a most sociable fellow. He is in the picture below. I sat with my pot of tea to read further in (yet) another new book entitled "Inner Story" about the unconscious stories that guide how we behave without us being terribly aware of these guiding forces.
7 Sep Email from Ana
It has been a long time since I heard from my Spanish friend Ana. The last email was maybe a couple of weeks ago. So I sent her an email asking if all is OK. I was a bit concerned. I am not normally good at that -at tracking the welfare of others.
Instantly after I sent that email, a new email appeared in my mailbox. From Ana.
Crazy precision of timing!
8 Sep The most delightful family
I have not long since returned from an hour sat in the garden of Cameo restaurant in Wellfield Road. The last rays of warm sun bathed the garden. As I took my seat, I started what was to be a long chat with the most enchanting family you could care to meet. Suzanne was my principle point of contact, although I also talked at length with her husband Leon. They had two boys and two girls, exactly as for my childhood, something that is not particularly common.
She was so totally accepting of whatever way I spoke with her and whatever I spoke about. It felt at any moment she would revert to be like most people and become defensive, or patronise but not really connect with me. But she and I remained engaged in spirited conversation, largely about art because one of her children was very artistic and she herself had been on a course. She showed me some of her art and it was genuinely very good. But she was not sure yet if she had found her niche. She said that next time we meet she will be sure to have more art to show me.
Their four children were sat with them eating. Or to be more precise, three of the four children were. Jasmine, the artistic one, refused to eat, and was not in a good place emotionally.
I had a great chat with Leon about health prevention, his former job, and the state of politics, where Boris Johnson is currently enduring the worst start to any Prime Ministerial career imaginable.
Suzanne and Leon were wonderfully easy going, as were three of the children, who seemed ludicrously happy of disposition. Their three year old boy soon came over to me to show me his Where's Wally? books. He held my hand as he did so, pretty devoid of any fear of strangers. The other girl (I only remember Jasmine's name, alas) eventually came to talk to me face to face whilst sporting a big grin.
But I preferred to place my attention on Jasmine who seemed all at odds with her siblings. I wanted her to see that her endless passion for art was in part reason for her emotional sensitivity. Or the other way around. When later they left, she was in tears and I tried to console her as best I could. Suzanne works with disadvantaged children so seemed to fully understood my efforts.
The deep engagement with this family reminded me of the way Liverpudlians make you feel completely relaxed. I left for home feeling a profound sense of contentment. This is very rare for me. A kind of reset.
9 Sep Bumping into Boyd
After a harrowing morning seeing a surgeon in Llandough hospital regarding my bad knee, my routine was thrown out of kilter. So I supped my English Breakfast tea in the middle of the afternoon at Coffee #1 rather than as a part of my normal early morning routine. After a while, Boyd Clack appeared in tow behind his wife. So I jumped at the chance of telling him about his friend Ray, which brought a grin to his face.
After explaining about this book, I told him another story from it, and described these things as synchronicities, which lit up his face as he had a story of his own from a few years ago to tell.
His colleague, John, decided to take a mini-break and head off for a ramble in the Highlands of Scotland. A break from routine. One day, he was passing a telephone box, in the days where they were still used. As he did so, the phone rang.
Curious, he entered the box and picked up the receiver.
The voice asked "Is that John?"
It was a call from work! Apparently, they had typed a single digit incorrectly and were routed to this box rather than his home landline phone.
He later told me that he had been asked to stand for a political role in Plaid Cymru (a social democratic independent Welsh party). He was bemused by this notion, and clearly was thinking in depth about it. His principle concerns were about his chequered past. My point to him was that he might be too honest. He agreed. But I said that it would be a fascinating thing for him to try -maybe to get inside-stories as seeds for a new television script.
10 Sep A cascade of chats
To Coffee #1 after a workout in the gym. I was lucky, again, to get the comfy chair facing the pavement and sunshine. With these tales of constant coffee shop trips, maybe you can see that the novelty wears off after a while. I would prefer to be able to work without getting headaches than go to coffee shops each day. I miss the repartee and the sense of communal purpose.
Today I had acquired a mild headache after a ludicrously short chat with Kieran in the gym so wanted to relax and read. I did some of this, but most of the two and a half hours I spent there I was chatting. Quite tiring, but an elevating distraction from discomfort.
A lady by the name of Irene sat down in the adjacent chair after about forty-five minutes. An articulate and lively seventy-eight year old with no less than six great-grandchildren. She was fascinating to talk with because of her lucid and entertaining manner as well as an interesting life to relate. She declared that she was blessed, in her words, not with any skill or talent, but with a calm pragmatism about life and a cheerful disposition. This meant that no less than thirty years spent nursing her poorly but deeply loved husband was never seen as a burden. But it did spur her to travel a lot in the following years as a form of catchup. It was, however, a bit of a struggle now as her hip bone osteoarthritis became so bad that the bone had actually merged with her femur.
Not long after she left, Malcolm appeared for a chat. Not a particularly special dialogue this time, and unexpectedly cut short by the appearance of Talia. She launched into a story about flat hunting, and Malcom quietly took his leave.
She seemed different this time, and part of my mind felt a little alienated. I hate this feeling. I see no value in it so I let it fade. But I suspect that my face showed some of it. I am, in a sense, not being authentic by harbouring and hiding such feelings, but am I really? I do not choose for these strange feelings to percolate up. They are momentary judgements that I do not want and therefore do not have to pay creed to. Fortunately, conversation was wonderful and became more animated than usual. She was stressed in a way that looked like 1% less than her normal calm. Amazing.
After a while, another person sat down in the chair next to me without invitation. Kind of reassuring that people feel they can do that. It was Luca who used to work in the Coffee #1 around the corner. He now took over the focal point in the dialogue, and Talia eventually drew up a seat to join us. It was a nice surprise to see Luca again as he is a most interesting and very authentic man who I had not spoken with for maybe a year or so.
His one year daughter was sat on his lap. Feya has transformed his life. Partying, drug taking and such reckless habits were now clearly seen as a relic of an ill-informed earlier lifestyle. He studies spiritualism now and is clearly beating a very different path through life. And he was most terribly excited by it.
In particular, he said that he connects with the universe and hears guiding voices. A very sane, grounded man is saying these things. What we personally do not experience we often do not truly understand, so I allowed for what he was saying.
And then he comes out with the synchronicities word. His very connected life now is replete with them. The story he told to us was rather involved, and very much as hard to believe as Boyd's tale yesterday.
A girl he met up with recently asked him back to her house for coffee, I think he said. He asked her if her road was nearby. When she told him the street, he had to ask her the house number. And, as you probably guessed, it was where he had previously lived. But the story does not end there.
When they arrived, she rushed to take a book off the shelf for Luca to read. "The alchemist" by Paul Cohelco. A while later, he left to meet with Tom, an actor he had recently befriended who is guiding Luca into acting as a career. After greeting him, it appears that just as Luca was pulling out that book from his bag to show Tom, that Tom was also pulling out of his bag a book he had got from the library.
Luca's honesty and openness seems to be facilitating such extreme synchronicities as this. But I became most tired and eventually bade them farewell. A series of chats that were simultaneously energising and tiring.
13 Sep Rachel, fine artist
With the prospect of a clear blue sky in the afternoon, I had an early lunch before taking the 132 slow bus from outside Cardiff Castle to Pontypridd. It has been a while since I travelled in bright sunshine, which may explain why the trees and hills were mesmerising as they rushed past outside. Most certainly, after enough meditation, landscapes become enriched to the eye and emotion. The intermingling of leaves and sparkling bright sun was breathtaking.
After a walk to explore beyond the centre, I returned to indulge in a latte at the Costa Coffee franchise in the lower of the 'high' streets. But first I had to ask a lady sat outside if I could sit on one of the seats at her table in the sun. She obliged and proved to be wonderfully engaging company. Such an animated face and nature as you can see in the picture on the next page.
With a distinction in her Fine Art degree, she was shortly about to start a Masters degree in Fine Art with the theme of sleep and the unconscious. As we spoke, Rachel kind of bubbled over with a mix of curiosity and things to say. I think I intrigued her. Talking with her was a kind of adventure, as you could see her mind triggered with thoughts and feelings each step of the way. A face incapable of hiding feelings inside, it felt. So a complete stranger really did not feel aloof or distant whatsoever.
She asked me if I was still working, and then what I did when I had been working. When I said that I had written books on the game of Go, she declared that she plays the game with her husband who has his own Go set. In Britain, this is pretty rare. So I was pleasantly surprised. She took a copy of "Balancing Act" to read.
I blurted out at one point that I struggle to do abstract art as I cannot easily visualise. She immediately described this as aphantasia -the literal inability to form images in the mind. And she declared that she also has this condition, even though an artist. She actually travelled to meet with the originator of the term, Adam Zeman, to talk about the subject. From her perspective, she feels the condition is more widespread than the 2% rate generally cited. It certainly feels fairly normal to me. Sadly, she had to leave earlier than I would have liked. Such a mercurial lady.
I walked to the bus station just as the fast X4 bus to Cardiff was pulling out. Strange then that another should pull in one minute later. I had the whole bus to myself as far as the Cardiff outskirts. When showing my free bus pass, I asked the driver where her accent was from. All over, she declared.
But there had to be some London in there, and yes, she said, she did live in Hackney at one point. When I said that I lived in Stoke Newington during my time working at the BBC, she said that she used to drive a bus there.
I nearly did not add this little factette here because it seemed so ordinary. But it is another synchronicity.
15 Sep Rachel replies
I received emails from Rachel saying that she has already read the book I gave her and mostly liked it. She gave me some links to follow up on dreaming -and as a consequence I ordered a copy of "Dreams of Awakening" about lucid dreaming. She showed me drawings made by Lee Hardin, a man who literally draws in his sleep. During her dissertation, she met up with him in Cardiff to learn about his take on the nature of dreaming.
You see, I hope, that meeting others can open new areas of interest. Part human-web and part planet-web as I see it.
She also said this in her email :
"Thank you for talking to me the other day. I was feeling rather distracted. "
The sunshine is such a comfort isn't it?
16 Sep Anatomy of an epidemic
I often carry two or three books with me in my capacious backpack, but the past few days only one, so good is it. "Anatomy of an epidemic" is a fairly long, but cleverly well organised and researched exposure of flaws in the treatment of mental health conditions in the US.
By way of example, it explains that anti-psychotic drugs do not work as they should. They seek to decrease a presumed excess of dopamine. The brain reacts to the reduction by increasing dopamine receptor sensitivity. It seeks to fix the imbalance the drug is trying to create! When the patient stops taking the drug, normal dopamine levels resume and the increased sensitivity of receptors can then create a worse problem than was there in the first place. At least this is how I have understood the central theme of the book.
Before taking my seat in Waterloo tea shop to read, I spoke to a very friendly lady, Laura, from Northern Ireland. A viola player by profession, happy to read a draft copy of this book.
On my way home, I crossed paths with Boyd Clack. This time, I asked him what he was up to -was he working at present. He was happy to talk about a film he has a small part in. About the actress Carol Hawkins and her fight with schizophrenia. So I was well positioned to talk about this subject having just been reading about it!
Boyd raised a key point that the book has yet to cover, but which is of course absolutely vital to this debilitating mental health condition - if existing drugs are abandoned because of long term effects, what do you use in place of them? For many people, the short term benefits are so immense that long term 'side-effects' have to be tolerated.
I hope this subject matter is not too sad or tedious for you to read about. But if mental health issues are alien to you, be grateful -be very grateful as they can create a deep, deep spiral. One aspect that Boyd talked of most fiercely was that chronic depression for him was at root so extremely boring. He has a lively, sharp mind, so to be mindlessly dulled by depression, virtually forced to spend vast amounts of time in a lack-lustre, lifeless mental state that is by definition devoid of excitement, rhythm -of anythingthat can stir the soul -drives him crazy.
18 Sep Sweet talking
The best way that I can describe the two chats with strangers that I had today is that were very sweet. On the front seat at the top of the double-decker bus into the city centre early afternoon, I again enjoyed the unfolding vista. As happens many times, I was sure that the bus could not turn in the tight spaces it often had to negotiate. But there were no bumps or scraping sounds.
To my left, a few seats away was a young lady assembling a roll-up cigarette. All in black I asked if it was not a touch warm for such clothes. "Only if you are a coward" was her reply. I laughed. She was interesting from the start. An independent thinker, she told me, no longer swayed by peer pressure. She did have money as a priority, but only for practical purposes. She had finished an IT course as she enjoyed programming, but had a dreadful memory so was not sure she would continue. In answer to my inevitable question, she would love to be a dog groomer. I had no idea what to say in reply. I could only think of Crufts pedigree dogs. She made a point of telling me that the chat was interesting, however, when we disembarked.
Later, in Bute Park, I sat on a bench with Anne who was reading a book about walking the talk of the Lords prayer. She was a little older than me, and an enthusiastic and excited speaker. We talked about many things, randomly jumping from one to another. She was entirely at ease that I declared myself to be atheist.
We even had an arena of common ground forshe believed for sure that everything is connected. That the universe is one giant web. She had even read a Christian book that had quantum in the title. And we talked on the impermanence of things in part because she had recently started decluttering her house. Each trip to the tip or charity shop lightened her mind as well as her house. She agreed with me when I suggested it might be quite cathartic.
Her parting words were to hope that the Lord would give me a great life. It is hard not to endorse that. She also said that when asked, God declared that the meaning of life is love. And the way in which she connected with me showed that she walked that talk.
19 Sep Victorin
One of my far neighbours, Brad has a French wife, Victorin, and baby girl. Today was the first time I spoke with her, a lady maybe more intriguing even than Brad. She was speaking in French to the baby. A trilingual baby, learning French, Welsh and English. At one point, Victorin mentioned her father in law. She pronounced the word 'law' just like Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellars) in The Pink Panther films when he said that he was an inspector of the law. It was hard to suppress laughter!
21 Sep Abergavenny food festival
Every September, Abergavenny hosts a large food festival. Not all years is it blessed with the blue sky and 24C heat that we gloried in today. So I emboldened myself for a near two hour bus journey and resumed my scenery gazing hobby.
It was in Cwmbran, I believe, that a lady a little older than I boarded and sat next to me. She was an easy talker and good listener, and we embarked on a thirty minute chat. Near the end of our chat, I declared that I was really enjoying talking but as an introvert was equally getting tired. It was a sign of her ease with me that I could say that. She also said the same, and we were, briefly as if one person. Quite a comforting feeling.
It transpires that Mair De-Gare Pitt, for that is her unusual name, is a published writer. Mostly poetry. She teaches also, and when seeking an artist to illustrate a recent book discovered that one of her students was more than capable for the task. Surprisingly, some of her former oil paintings matched some of the poems implausibly well. I necessarily mentioned that I was also a writer and that I was writing this book. I regaled the most recent story involving Boyd Clack only to discover that she knows him as he had attended one of her poetry sessions. Quite the small, connected world it seems.
After we agreed to stop talking, she read a book, so I also gave her one of my books to take away. I listened to music on headphones. After parting at our destination, I soon found a lady in ancient clothing to photograph. I captured her and realised that the lady she was talking with was in fact Mair.
Alas, the food festival was a heavily commercialised affair, costing rather a lot more than I was prepared to pay to enter the main areas. Fortunately, there were other food stalls scattered around, the sun was shining, the sky was a deep blue, and there were seemingly a million people energising this most delightful of Welsh towns.
Eventually, I had to eat and felt drawn to the exact same meal as I ate on my only previous visit here, at a wonderfully quirky department store called Nicholls. The most delicious and delightfully presented mini-lasagne with salad and garlic bread. Just enough on a hot day. I sat with an Irish family - two girls and father, with mother away on a circus event. And the father engaged me in dialogue the whole time I sat there.
Here you can see the restaurant at the rear of the shop with its high atrium flooding light in a cascade downward. I sat right in the corner most illuminated. My companion was a business marketing and campaigning man. He stressed that he operated on the ethical side of this game, promoting fairly. His children were extraordinarily well behaved, and clearly, he was a good father to them from what I could see. Tough love he described his approach -clear and consistent boundaries that regularly got contested of course, but always love at root.
I set off on a walk about among the madding crowds afterwards, and eventually found myself approaching a man with a fine mane of hair. I felt compelled to say hello. Sometimes I get nervous thinking about doing this. So I tend to jump straight in before my brain freezes. Only moments after speaking I impulsively asked if he was a bass guitarist. I was not far wrong as he sings in a band called Damn Craters based in Nottingham.
His daughter seemed upset and tired but was, he said, just shy. So I should have swiftly set out on my way. But I got embroiled in talking about influences to his band. And discovered Black Sabbath to be key catalyst for their style (have a listen and that is quite clear). I had bought the first four Sabbath albums with a friend when younger.
I discovered that Abergavenny has a delightful park, and headed for it mid afternoon. I found myself sat on a bench chatting with a very friendly mother of three children, one of whom was autistic. She was saying to me how she likes to avoid labelling him, but has a friend with an autistic boy that does so and it feels to the lady sat with me that this is stymying that boys development.
She comes to the park most days since they live so close. She had reached the delightful point where she could safely let her boys wander quite far, although she did lose track of conversation a number of times as she lost sight of one or other of the boys. Some pictures of the park are shown on the next page.
There was a large queue for the bus back to Cardiff, so I nearly found myself standing. A lady made space on the luggage rack for me to sit next to her. Mair was stood in front of me also. An 83 year old Chinese man made us all laugh with one quip he made and the most enormous and natural smile so beguiling to follow. Later he could be seen sat with his similarly aged wife contentedly in the land of nod, with heads bowed forward as if joined in prayer together.
A couple to my left and a self-conscious lady to the left of Mair made a great base for conversation. The 'make-do' effort of coping with an overcrowded bus created a kind of war-time united community. Barriers of status melted away.
After some forty minutes or so, I was blessed with a seat and soon a lady of mixed Indian and African blood sat next to me. And chatted me to near exhaustion again. But a kind of content, benign state rather than a frazzled one. Of the many things we talked about, the African notion of frying sweet potato with sugar on it sounded appealing. The day was so long and tiring it felt like I was once again in full time work.
The tiredness enveloping me was also one of contentment.
24 Sep Psychology student
After gym work, I felt unusually energised and clear headed, so the notion of simply reading in the coffee shop was less attractive than normal. I wanted to talk, and I was particularly happy that the lady on the next table was willing to oblige. Studying her A levels, she was energised, curious minded and a great listener. That was probably vital as I was in full-on pressure-of-speech mode.
Her name was Seren, and she is studying Biology, Maths (I believe that she said) and Psychology. Her name means star in Welsh, and she was happy to talk about psychology as she hoped to study the subject at University. She was a delight to chat with.
One matter that we talked of was her desire to chat with strangers - precisely what she was doing with me. It was something she was keen to do but had not yet been so good at, she felt. I promoted the idea to her, but with a caveat of caution because she was attractive and young.
After a while, I asked her if my torrent of words was tiring her. She genuinely said that it was not, but she agreed with me on my comparison of introversion with extroversion. I related to her my current feeling that the interesting things that can arise in conversation can be the things that tire out the introverted type. What lures us in eventually can then push us away. Extroverts, by comparison, have such a high threshold for averting boredom that they rarely get overwhelmed by conversation.
I decided, as I thought on the fly in our conversation, that introverts must therefore be on the autistic spectrum -that the details in conversation that wash over extroverts can overwhelm introverts. Likewise, those 'suffering' with ADHD may also be on the spectrum, where details around can distract them from what they should be paying attention to. I mentioned aphantasia to her and she swiftly announced that only recently she had read an article about it - that the term was only created a few years ago. I gave Seren a copy of one of my books.
Later in the day, I received an email from Nancy. I had been able to access her web site at last. She said she had enjoyed my book and sent me a pdf of a book she has written, illustrated by Paul. The Feeding Machine is clearly a book written in a very unusual style. A novel, it seems, but with references to social development articles and concepts. It really makes me want to talk again with her. I offer quotes and an illustration from that book on the next page.
I work with computers, I ruminated, cryptic machines that have become small enough to slip inside ones pocket. Housed in an impenetrable shell of plastic, these ubiquitous things can absorb one into a revolutionary other world.
Using his concept of picnolepsy, Virilio suggests that modern perception has transformed our relationship with duration and de-synchronisation of time through cinematic technologies and spatial narratives of disappearance, affecting our sense of reality and blurring what is real and what is of human fabrication.
27 Sep Chanel and Rickie
A blustery, autumnal day, with fast rushing clouds and injections of rain at random times. Time to try to find a book on the subject of architectural detail that caught my interest recently - fascinated again by all the little carvings and extravagances around windows and at the tops of buildings. Cardiff is blessed with many such 'artworks' as it were. The lady on the bus next to me was absorbed in her mobile phone -at least until the driver announcement of a detour when I grabbed her attention.
Poor lady -she was now trapped in a chat with me! But seriously, it was not quite that bad. She was animated of nature with a very expressive smile, and seemed entirely happy to chat. I asked if she thought that it was my age that saw me prefer to look at the scenery go by rather than engage in electronic diversions. She said that the buildings were boring -but that she did indeed love looking at sunlight greenery go past. This was a nice surprise -revealing how terribly easy it is to pigeon-hole the young.
She is a fitness instructor, hailing from the valleys with a strong accent. A lilting, rhythmic accent. A while back she went to a sports open day of sorts and discovered that she is a very good 200m runner. Most strange! This discovery solicited a move away from her first degree in film into fitness work. And now she was combining both of these themes -with clear excitement in her voice -with a masters degree in sports film. How curiously arbitrary events in our life can be that steer us.
She admitted to being a constant thinker as well as a clearly flexible, adaptive creature. Most friendly and engaging to talk with -implausibly good entertainment on a humble bus journey. Her name was Chanel, just like the perfume.
On the bus home from town, I decided the crowd of youngsters at the back were a bit too noisy and I took a stop earlier than normal. By doing so, I bumped into Rickie, a very warm Scope charity worker I had bumped into a couple of days ago. I had given him a copy of "Improve your life" and he was saying now that he was already on chapter three and loving it. That of course is a nice thing to hear. To help someone with emotional problems.
His girlfriend also wants to read the book.
28 Sep Two hours in Coffee #1
Saturday morning after a magnificent night of sleep, I was fired up for a mix of reading and chatting, the former for sure, the latter if fortunate. Coffee #1 tends to be pretty busy on Saturdays so I was denied a comfy chair window seat, instead quite happy to sit on a wooden chair at a table upstairs in the window, the sun blasting in sweet heat in-between heavy downpours. I had no less than four books to read after the library trip yesterday. One on the current state of journalism (Breaking News), another on the art of designing logos, and finally a splendid Taschen book on the subject of illustration with a vast diversity of styles from an array of artists. I had been very narrow with my reading of late and this was fun.
Two boys appeared, followed by their mother, choosing to sit in the comfy chairs near to me. She was a pleasure to chat with, and such a good listener that I feared I had bombarded her. I am trying to fine tune my verbosity, to rein it in as appropriate, but she declared herself most happy with the chat. One of her boys was how my brother Ib>Ian looked when young, and was equally quiet, waiting to say something profound rather than filling in the chat gaps. Again, just like my brother. His younger brother was slouched in his chair, flippant to his mother, but when I asked him what he thought of Boris Johnson as a person, he declared that he could not say as he only saw him as a politician. I had to admire this sharpness of understanding.
They left and were soon replaced by a very friendly young man. How often, you see me say, that people I meet are friendly. The truth is that most people are indeed friendly when you greet them with genuine warmth. His name was Duncan and he was no longer a student but instead applying his chemistry degree in research on energy efficient devices. I honour his preference that I do not mention the company or details of his work. Suffice to say is that they were making great progress on two fronts in a time when energy efficiency is becoming ever more vital.
A friend of his appeared after a while, climbing into a sprawling posture, draped across the other comfy chair, and it was like watching an A grade film star bursting with presence. An extremely handsome man with an enchanting, beaming smile above a small black beard. His face was very precisely structured. I asked Duncan what his friend did for a living as I felt sure he should be an actor in films. He said that I was not far wrong as he is a cameraman. And a singer in a band as well as an occasional drummer. The world of expression was, it seemed, very much his oyster. I stayed a while in chat with them as they both seemed comfortable that I did. One of the habits I have is to try to fine tune my perception my impact on others. To sense the fine clues that dialogue is on track or losing its sheen.
Meanwhile, Ed had arrived to sit on my other side. I remarked that he looked most particularly healthy -simply because he did. He too had noticed a change in his appearance in the last few days and had tried to work out why that might be the case. He presumed that an addition of omega 3 fatty acids and another such change might have been the cause. His girlfriend arrived with a matching smile, but when I talked to the two of them I felt she was a bit wary of me so I drew back into my books.
A couple of hours equally exciting and tiring. I left feeling vitalised, with some recovery of energy after twenty minutes of post-chat reading. Such mornings tend to permit time all alone for the remainder of the day with no feel of being lonely. A kind of stockpile of connection with others. A recharging of sociability.
29 Sep At the Lidl checkout
After shopping at my local Lidl supermarket, a lady near me was in limbo, with just one item, it seemed. I said she was welcome to go in front of me. She declined as she said that she did not like the lady on the checkout. I risked it, but the checkout woman did look frumpy and ready to snap at anyone who did not 'toe the line' on checkout 'rules'. Except that she was none of these things. Instead, she was particularly warm and friendly when I got to the checkout. She was so nice that I had to reflect that I could not remember the last I was served who was so radiantly happy a person to greet me as a customer.
I wonder what the avoidant lady had done to miss this?
Later in the day, the three children of one of the Iraqi families in my road were keen to chat when we met as they were walking to their home. They are particularly polite and engaging, so I have a lot of time for them. The youngest, about four, is most sweet, with a creative imagination. He asked if I do sciency things. I said I read about psychology so he asked me what that was about. So divine to engage with children like this. Later still, the four boys of the other Iraqi family accosted me with smiles and inquiries. Do I play tennis every day? How am I?
All quite in contrast to an all too common Welsh/British reserve which we cling to as a defining part of our 'culture'. We really should challenge this aloofness.
30 Sep Three chats in succession
A grey day, with no prospects of sun, alas. But it is not so much a problem when my schedule is gym work followed by reading and chatting in a coffee shop. The same routine I have followed countless times, but the people I met today diminished that sense of sameness to nearly nothing. It was like being a rogue invitee to an event held for extraordinarily nice people.
I sat upstairs with my back to the window so that my reading was illuminated by the light of day, even though not a sunny one. I turned around briefly to say hello to the lady who was reading "Wuthering Heights" at her table. My head craned to do so, and stayed there rather longer than a moment. Maybe half an hour? How can I say that I met another smiling lady without making it seem that I am somehow elaborating? She beamed at me as if I was special. And then she proceeded to outdo me with her fast flowing thought train. But all coherent and appropriate to the things we discussed, such as her English Literature degree and soon to be resumed Masters degree in the same subject. She writes childrens stories, she thinks and thinks and thinks, and also therefore proclaimed that she thinks too much. Her name was Sophie and I was spell-bound. Such an exquisitely fascinating creature. So energised and so thrilled about being alive -about embracing what life threw at her, including challenging her University on its declared equal rights policy, yet to be denied the necessary child minding support from them to be able to work on her Masters. A hyperactive five year old is too demanding and distracting to allow her to focus on her work.
She was necessarily thrilled when I gave her a couple of my books to read. I wanted to know her reaction to my short novel, and also to encourage her to retry meditation. She is weaning herself away from her phone, and very much would like to calm her ceaselessly active mind. She thanked me for addressing another matter - I had asked to read her short stories, and so she now had some motivation for putting them online, maybe coupling them with the art work others had volunteered to her. She had delayed on this idea as procrastination, she revealed, was a weakness of hers. I suggested maybe a consequence of too much time thinking and too little doing. But I made a point that thinking deeply itself was intrinsically good, even if sometimes needing some constraining or tempering.
This was a thrilling but exhausting chat, not least because I had to concentrate hard to listen carefully to her long, but fascinating thought streams. Maybe that tiredness was the cause of a rare symptom at one point whereI suddenly felt a kind of detachment. A feeling that my mind might want to escape the dialogue and say something sarcastic. This is pretty unsettling stuff. But I did not feel too bad about myself that this matter was intruding, not least because I did not choose this and it was out of context. So I did not buy into this intrusion and let it fade. It was a tiny existential crisis, if that makes sense.
Not long after she left, Delon arrived. A smart, slim, handsome, interesting looking fellow. Like Sophie, I would guess that he was in his twenties (everyone under fifty looks young to me). A computer programmer, and clearly a well informed and articulate man, his name is French apparently, the emphasis being placed on the second syllable. Yet he is South African. My ADHD blurted out the belief that these are friendly people. He said that this is said often but he felt that it was generally true of most countries. And that some of the divisions that apartheid created are unfortunately bubbling up again.
Delon also had a disarming smile, albeit a gentle one. Less dominant than many big-smilers I meet. But I struggled to match his intellect. When we talked about psychiatric drugs, in particular those for depression called Serotonin Re-Uptake Enhancers, he subsequently referred to them as SSRIs, the medical abbreviation that I had seen in the book on the subject. The son of a wealthy man he knew was given pre-release prozac tablets, presumably to help with depression. Delon described some strange behaviours that resulted from this, and how in general anti-depressants tend to fade in effect over time, but the takers oddly continue to extol their efficacy or virtues. It would be nice to talk to him again, especially when not so tired as I now was.
So why did I then proceed to talk with an 'A' level student who now sat in the window seat? I have no idea. Maybe I was on a roll.
I was now blessed with a third enchanting person. Her name was Kacie, and she was an introvert who was originally shy but now loved to talk to strangers. The animated smile adorning her face -one that showed no sign of hiding any feelings or thoughts -was that of a seasoned talker. A practiced engager. Yet she was probably only seventeen years old.
It is worth asking, I feel, if you see such chats as just chats - simply a form of retirement fun? Since I often write about such chats here, and this book may yet get published and sell copies, then is it not work also?