Monday, 6 February 2012

Small Talk

The question 'So what do you do?' is, The Guardian tells me, an offensive, boring and predictable way to launch conversation at gatherings. I can see the problem, but a ban on it removes vital social ballast. 'Can you still do handstands?' is an alternative that I've tried occasionally, but people tend to smile and edge away. Predictability is desirable among strangers.

Now my social life is impeded by a further taboo. A casual acquaintance is battling severe depression. 'How are you!' is a frivolous greeting as we wait twice daily at the school gate for we both know full well that she is drowning, but a solitary 'Hello' seems abrupt. 'Lovely day!' won't do either for it's dark as pitch in her world. But silence, when you're wedged close, is only acceptable between intimates and strangers. And so I've worked my way through her wardrobe, admiring stray garments to fill the gaps and I longed for the season to change so I could start on her winter wear.

The man who hails me on the way home is, however, oblivious to the perils of cliched social overtures. 'And how are you today?' he asks heartily, shoving a clipboard into my left eye ball. I recognise a 'chugger', primed to coax from me my signature and bank details for one of the richer national charities. I subscribe to several charities. I give money to hunched Big Issue Sellers and people who don't rattle their tins in my face, but I do not like to be accosted.

Chuggers, however, don't accept polite refusals. In my corduroy and collapsing hat I'm visibly a vicar's wife and they pursue me down the street imploring my bounty. This time, though, I am ready. 'I'm so glad that you care,' I answer piteously. 'I've battled projectile diarrhoea all morning and noone else will come near me.'

And I enjoy the unprecedented sight of a chugger reversing at speed. Fizzy with victory I devise canny repellants for the cold callers who interrupt my dinner to ask if I've drawn up a will and for the gas salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses who take root on the vicarage doorstep. But from now on, whomever I'm greeting, I shall steer clear of the hackneyed 'How are you?' It will serve me right if people answer me truthfully.

Could anyone give me more tips on how to repel bounty-seekers? There's only so much one can do with diarrhoea.

26 comments:

  1. Brilliant! I feel a meme coming on - best opening lines. I did once tell a cold telephone caller that I couldn't talk as I was in labour!

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    1. I'll make a note of that one! Pretending that you think they're a long-lost friend having a laugh also works well. Perhaps Kate could do a listiography!

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  2. When I got a call from BT, offering me some super new deal for the third time in a week, and Anglian wanting to sell me a second conservatory, I simply passed them over to my 2 year old son who talked to them about trains. We've been cold call free for 6 months and counting...

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    1. That is inspired! Is your toddler available for hire? Although I suppose if I let loose my nine-year-old on the subject of Emma Watson...

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  3. I get rid of Amnesty International chuggers by saying curtly 'I don't support human rights'. Unfortunately I am so busy stalking off that I don't see the expression on their faces. But I hope it deflates their self-importance; big charities are SO self-righteous.

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    1. Ye--es, I could keep that one up my sleeve. So long as the Bishop wasn't within earshot.

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  4. I am ashamed to say that I use Snoo like a human shield in these cases. We are ALWAYS "in a rush to get her home for a nap" as I speed past them avoiding eye contact in case they can smell my lies...

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    1. Babies are useful in that way. You could always ask if the chugger could change her soiled nappy while you hunt out your bank details.

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  5. That's fab, wil have to use that line the next time one of those spotty, shaggy haired men shake their tins at me....

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Sorry, I didn't write anything rude to you, Mrs Pram. Just confused you with another 'P'

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  6. marvellous,

    I merely go deaf - I actually sign my responses....

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    1. I really like that suggestion. Just my luck, though, that they'd be collecting for the deaf.

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  7. I think the Diarrhoea is the best solution, you could always add "do you have any spare tissue?"

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    1. Why didn't I think of that! The only difficulty is it takes a steely nerve. had my dad with me at the time. Not sure I'd dare humiliate myself so when unaccompanied!

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  8. I usually fight cheeriness with cheeriness and exclaim, "No thank you but good luck!" followed by a Paul McCartney-style thumbs-up.

    Failing that pretend you don't speak English.

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    1. The former never works with me. They take any kind of eye contact as an encouragement.

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  10. I'm always in a rush heading to pick someone up from somewhere, so definitely no time to talk to chuggers. Ambulance chasers have driven me to distraction recently though, a year after a Polish deliveryman reversed into me with his van full of tyres. I walked away injury free, but I think I've given myself whiplash from slamming down the phone on the chasers.

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    1. I've been persecuted lately by ambulance chasers asking about my car accident. Have never had one so clearly opportunists. The thing to do is tell them you have to turn a boiling pan off the don't come back to the phone so at least you cost them money...

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  11. Oh dear, you are far too funny.

    I'm even laughing at the word 'chugger' (which I have never heard before).

    I tend to get them ringing up. Is diarrhoea transmissible via the ether?

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  12. I don't think so. But for telephonic chuggers, you could try pretending that the sound of their voice sends you into paroxysms of extreme pleasure, if you get me. Or ask them whether they are a friend of Jesus and if they'd mind you reading from the pious tract you've just penned.

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  13. I am a skinhead so I can just stroll on by while those hippy clipboard act all friendly towards me.

    It's annoying though as they often get pretty girls to do it.

    Try singing the theme tune to The Poddington Peas at them.

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