Judge Mental


This is an ex-carpet factory in Glasgow.

I’ve been very remiss towards my readers of late, leaving both of you bereft of stimulation. Luckily, however, brother Ron has stepped in to plug the enormous gap. I do have some information to pass on but that will wait for another time. Enjoy instead another of Ron’s introspective musings.

By the way, the picture has nothing whatsoever to do with the blog but I couldn’t find one of an old sea dog and the ones I have of Ron would contradict the self-perception he offers late in his piece. All yours, Ron.

Here’s a sailor, transplanted from some maritime haven to the middle of Suffolk, his beard and his Breton cap barely hiding his scowl; his tame dog, sans red spotted hanky, the only one shackled by a tight harness and the shortest of leads.

It’s his wife’s fault they’re aground here, miles from the ozone and the breakers but close to her dry, ailing mother who has not died for five years.

And the spring tide of golden barley which, in July, waved and shifted like the swells of his true home has ebbed and left a vast stubble beach, full of fractured flints where rounded pebbles ought to be.

None of which is true, except the dog bit. The rest is what happened in my head in the time between noticing, greeting and passing my fellow dog walker this morning. I assume I’m not unusual in creating these narratives, certainly not in the company of Bill and his readers, but I often find myself wondering why I do it. In Bill’s case, I guess he sees it as a creative necessity to indulge in people-watching and making playful, random judgements about someone’s appearance, their back story and their motivation, etc. He will possibly have a note book in which he jots down these impressions to be read later and possibly used to colour a scene or a chapter. My habit seems just an idle compulsion, though I do sometimes wonder if it fulfils some higher purpose.

I recall hearing a recent radio programme where someone was describing the apparently instinctive behaviour many of us (particularly hypersensitive cowards like me) exhibit when confronted with something resembling a snake. Our first move is a knee-jerk recoil movement away from the immediate area; a straightforward act of self preservation. This is usually followed by a calmer, more rational – and often more embarrassed – look at the creature, which by now has revealed itself as nothing more than a harmless grass snake or even a piece of discarded rope. The drama of this scenario is going to be heightened or lessened by all sorts of factors, like the context, the presence of other people, the time of day, etc. Nevertheless, that Darwinian recoil seems like a good idea for those of us who want to hang around a bit longer.

So maybe my sailor characterisation is pragmatic rather than creative. Thus, after having first recoiled at the prospect of him having a marlin spike by way of a weapon in his free hand, if I can successfully rehearse an interaction with this stranger before we meet, I will have a couple of ice breaking starters:

‘Aha, a Breton hat. Are you a man of the sea?’ or ‘Does your dog pull, then?’

At the very least, these will guarantee a very short conversation and thereby achieve my main aim of ignoring all and sundry on my morning dog walk, which I don’t see as the social promenade some of the other owners enjoy but more an existential bridge between breakfast and my next cup of coffee.

My wife, apart from being more generally mature than I, also has a counselling background and, quite rightly, tells me to avoid these judgements. ‘How would you like it if people did the same to you.’ Perish the thought and how dare they. Just imagine if my sailor indulged in the same strategy as he approached me:

Hm… tall, thin, probably fancies himself as a sportsman of some kind, a golfer by the look of that dreadful shirt. Too old to wear those shorts and surely a real ale enthusiast if that belly’s any indication… Those smaller dogs should not be on those extending leads but he doesn’t look like he’d spend the time training it anyhow… lazy bugger… thinks doing the Times crossword counts for something…

Uncannily, he’d be right on all points.

Notwithstanding the tremendous amount of graft people like Bill have to do when practising their craft, I’m attracted by the idea that writers are naturally selected members of the species who have actively evolved from the sludge where the rest of us are glooping around, almost seeing snakes.

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