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6:16pm on Wednesday, 3rd March, 2010:



I'm sitting on a train right now, heading back to Colchester. I went to London today for a workshop on the possible uses of games for certain government departments. All was going swimmingly well, until the five minutes where I blacked out and regained self-awareness to find myself saying "I think I may have just ranted".

Anyway, today's post isn't about that at all.

A knot of students approached me in Theobald's Road and asked me to define the word "geezer" for them. They didn't even know if it was a noun or an adjective. Naturally, being chivalrous, I obliged. However, I did consider mentioning to them that there are things like dictionaries and the Internet that might give better results than strangers accosted in the street.

Oh, that isn't what this post is about either. What it is about is a set of four random conversations I overheard today.

The first was in Boots the chemist, where I was picking up a prescription. One of the people being served already was a guy who was having a mobile phone conversation in a very loud and slurring voice. I don't know what his prescription involved, but he had to show some identification and then drink the medication in front of the pharmacist. None of this interrupted his phone call, which it became gradually apparent was to the mother of his son. He was making all kinds of threats to her — throwing acid on her face so she'd never be a mother to a child again was one — all without a care for the possibility that two pharmacists, another customer standing next to him and me could hear what he was saying. After he was gone, the pharmacists assured each other and us that he was on some kind of register, and would not be throwing acid at his former partner. Still, I'll feel rather bad if he does.

The second conversation was at a branch of Café Nerd. I was trying to write some thoughts on a design I have for a Facebook game, but as ever, words (from this conversation) distracted me and I couldn't string together coherent sentences. I started playing Master of Orion instead. Anyway, the conversation concerned a business trip which the two participants had been on. They were two guys, and in order to save money they'd shared a room in some large hotel in America. However, they had charged expenses for two rooms. The lack of a second receipt had been caught by the accountants, so the pair were agreeing on the story they would be telling to explain why the receipt was missing and why one of them should be reimbersed the $2,800 claimed for it. So, it's not just MPs, then.

The third conversation was also in Café Nero, and was a job interview. The woman being interviewed was a mother who wanted to work three days a week only, and was leaving her current three-day-a-week job because they still gave her five days worth of work in it. The man interviewing her was slightly younger than she was, and was coming out with a stream of management platitudes about how this was a company that understood its workforce and their needs and it was all very flexible and there was no pressure and most of their money was made by six people working on a single project that he was in charge of and ... just a moment! It suddenly changed from being an interview to being some kind of boasting event. The man had clearly made up his mind that the woman was actually pretty good value, and so switched to telling her what a great and powerful person he was so that when she started work she'd be his thrall. What a sleaze! I felt like going up to her and telling her what I thought, but it turned out I didn't need to: he went to the toilet, and while he was gone she got up and left.

The fourth conversation was on a tube train. Two guys in their 20s were talking about a trip to the Red Light District they'd made. I don't know which RLD, but they mentioned a restaurant called Teasers where all the waitresses were topless, so that might narrow it down. It would seem they had a lot of fun there, although quite why they felt that it was a suitable topic of conversation for the ears of 20 people in an underground train is a mystery to me. I didn't hear the end of this conversation as it was interruped by a student from Queen Mary Medical College collecting money in a bucket for rag week. Every person in the carriage, including the two men who'd been stuffing notes into a dancer's knickers over the weekend, dropped some change into the bucket. There were no exceptions, which is quite amazing when you think about it. OK, well yes, there was one exception: me. I didn't like some of the charities that the student said the money was going to, so I kept my hands in my pockets. Peer pressure doesn't work on me, you may have noticed.

I'd better stop now, as two young women have just got on the train and started to chat. I'm finding it impossibly distracting...

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).