It was a rush hour train full of commuters returning home from London. On the other side of the aisle I could see a woman in her 50s with a dyed, jet black perm that resembled a Brillo pad. I was struck by her skirt, which was made out of a thin, white, synthetic material with a print of purple cowboy hats on it. She was talking to a gaunt man in his 40s who looked as if he worked in a library. He spoke in a very camp voice, which made even the most innocuous remark sound like a witticism. She said something to him and he shook his head emphatically.
'Ooh no, you don't want to be twirled around, do you?'
'I like Line Dancing, Foxtrot and Latin America.' She replied, in a faux genteel, but slightly 'common', London accent.
'Ooh yes. Line Dancing's not too demanding. Mind you, there's that one where they hold their hands in the air. That one's outrageously energetic!'
'I don't think Ron's taught us that one yet'
'I bet you're in demand a lot'
'I always arrive early and have a soft drink first'
'Ooh good idea. Stoke yourself up'
Their conversation was pure Alan Bennett and I frantically scribbled down as much as I could, but handwriting isn't my forte and I soon lagged behind. I wish I knew shorthand. Eavesdropping in public places is usually disappointing, particularly when it comes to listening to other people's mobile phone conversations. However, occasionally I come across a gem and love to speculate about the background to the people I'm listening to.
The mark of a really good writer is someone who can create dialogue like this without making it sound like a crude, patronising parody. The last book I read that was absolutely spot-on about the strange combination of banality, passive aggressiveness, humour and occasional profundity that makes up a large part of human conversation was Patrick Hamilton's Slaves of Solitude. He must have eavesdropped on a few people to write such convincing dialogue. I wonder how he would have coped with today's mobile conversations...
Yeah that's right babe...we're gonna relocate the whole operation...they're talking in the region of 300k...well, that's just a ballpark figure...