I was stuck in commuter traffic into Cambridge on Monday morning. When this sort of thing happens, I spend my time using my rear-view mirror to watch the driver of the car behind me.
Believing they are safe from prying eyes in their metal cocoon, they allow their inner-self to surface – their 8:30am-Monday-morning inner-self, anyway. Usually I see yawning, checking of makeup, gratuitous nasal excavation, or enthusiastic singing.
Sometimes they talk to themselves. And if the traffic is really bad (as was in this instance) and the driver is clearly late, I can often lipread the rather offensive language. The body language is normally quite plain, too.
But as I can’t actually hear what is going on in the car behind me … really, I’m just guessing. They could be rapping, for all I know.
This uncertainty is quite a worry. When I see random people sat in traffic, or on the bus, or walking through town – I’m finding it harder to tell who is sane and who is bat-crap bonkers.
It used to be quite simple. A checklist that could be applied to any random individual, in order for you to gauge whether to make eye contact or not.
- Talking to themselves – mental.
- Shuffling around, hunched over, staring down – social issues.
- Trousers are dragging around their ankles – tried to go to the lavatory without the assistance of their carer.
- Enthusiastically stroking their (ahem) “pocket” area – perhaps not technically mental, but you wouldn’t want to shake hands with them.
- Jeans are covered in white paint – just sat on a freshly-painted park bench. Bit thick.
But these days, such a list would be insufficient.
- Talking to themselves – hands-free mobile phone.
- Shuffling around, hunched over, staring down – composing a text message whilst walking.
- Trousers are dragging around their ankles – young person.
- Enthusiastically stroking their “pocket” area – skipping tracks on iPod.
- Jeans are covered in white paint – just spent a hundred quid on a pair of jeans that look like they’re covered in white paint. Bit thick.
I’m not sure how to keep track. What does it mean, when to act a certain way means that you either own the latest techno-gadet, or you need to see a trick-cyclist? Or is it just that I’m getting old?
(“Opus” cartoon used without permission. But Berkeley Breathed is a fabulous artist, so hopefully if I mention that here and tell you to go and find his books on Amazon then that should make up for it.)