Almost all the encounters I’m recording in this series are pretty much hit-and-run. That doesn’t mean they’re insignificant, of course – some of them are the first salvoes in what might go on to become something substantial. But who can tell? See this post for a brief description of my 500 People challenge.
- Sunday 9 May, as we came home from somewhere, a young man with a lot of tattoos and a part-shave haircut was opening the door of our small block of flats. We introduced ourselves, and he volunteered that he’s moving in with a downstairs neighbour, or perhaps just visiting.
- Wednesday evening, we had our annual fire services inspection. This meant a man with a ladder came into our flat and set off the smoke alarms. After the minimal transactional exchanges, I said, ‘It must be hard on your ears doing that a hundred times a day.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I think I’m deaf.’
- Thursday at GymKidz, in order to deal with a bit of social awkwardness among the young gymnasts, I asked a man for his daughter’s name. He wasn’t her usual escort, and she had been having a great time showing off her balancing skills to him. He had tried a couple of times to encourage her to pay attention to the instructor, but given up with cheerful resignation. We swapped the names of our young charges, but not our own names. It was his birthday, and he said that spending it at the gym was a lot better than being at work.
- Thursday lunchtime at Sydney Park slippery-dips, a young woman in a hijab was playing on the slides with her two young children while a man I took to be her husband sat under a tree and filmed some of their activities. As we were moving away, I said to him, ‘You’ve got the easy job.’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I try not to fall asleep.’ (I should say there was no hint from anyone that he wasn’t just as active as she on other occasions.)
- Thursday a couple of minutes later, I spoke to the woman in the hijab who was then watching her daughter walk across a rickety bridge. When I admired the little girl’s fearlessness, the mother smiled broadly and amplified my comment. We chatted a little about our young people’s relative ages and sizes.
- Thursday, still in Sydney Park, Ruby and I were riding our scooters around one of the ponds when a big dog came bounding over to us. He was friendly enough, but given that he was more than twice Ruby’s size it’s not surprising she backed off in alarm. In the nick of time, the dog turned his attention to a middle-aged man in lycra who came jogging by at a pace. The man saved himself from falling, and turned indignantly to a woman sitting on a bench nearby nursing a dog lead: ‘You have to put him on the lead, that’s the second time he’s nearly tripped me up.’ She made a compliant gesture with the lead and he jogged off. A couple of seconds later the dog, still not on the lead, got underfoot with another jogger, who went on his way discombobulated but without saying anything. At that point I said, in what I hoped was a friendly tone, ‘You really should put him on the lead.’ ‘It’s an off-leash area,’ she said. ‘That’s why we come here.’ And she and the dog, still off-leash, went off, leaving me and Ruby to our negotiations with our scooters. We passed the cranky man a little later, but by then the offending dog and its owner had left his circuit.
- Thursday about a quarter of an hour later again, we were playing in a sandpit near a small boy and his mother. (Only the young ones were actually in the sandpit.) The mother spoke to her son in some English but mostly in another language. I broke the ice by asking what language she was speaking – Polish. Every time Ruby or our friend’s little boy went near the little Polish boy, he would clutch his big yellow tractor and say, ‘Mine!’ His mother was embarrassed, and said he had only become possessive like that since gong to childcare. We chatted about the possibility that he would keep both languages into adulthood. As we left, I refrained from saying Dasvidaniya in case a) it was Russian, and b) it meant something other than goodbye. It turns out it does mean goodbye but it is Russian. The Polish, I now know, is Do widzenia.
- Thursday evening, when I took our recycling out, there was a new man going through the bins for cans and bottles. We chatted briefly. I rescued my single Heaps Normal can from our small bin and handed it to him.
- Friday afternoon, I had the sauna mostly to myself. When a young man wearing a small cross on a gold chain came in I asked, conventionally, ‘How are you?’ and it turned into a conversation: he was having ‘a bit of a wild time’. We chatted for a bit about his not-very-wild dilemma (choosing between almost identical job offers) before he turned on his ear buds and I went back to my book. I couldn’t swear that this was the first conversation he and I have had. Certainly it felt as if some groundwork had been done on previous occasions. But I’m counting it as part of the challenge anyway.
Running total is now 123.