Tuesday, January 27, 2004

There is nothing more satisfying that watching other people. I've made an art of people watching over the years.

Now many of those who share my hobby might say that you should always keep your subjects unaware of your game. Avoid eye contact they would advocate; look at your shoes. And what utter toss that is. Such a tactic is akin to holding a large neon sign with a big black arrow and the words "People Spotter" instead of "Golf Sale" (there was a bloke holding a Golf Sale sign on the road side at Oxford Circus in a thong of people celebrating whilst the victorious England Rugby team went past in their open top bus. I'm not sure if this was clever irony or an extreme commitment to a shit job. Extreme Job Commitment - now there's a crap idea for a new sport).

No, the best way to People Spot is simply thus: stay calm, look confident and friendly and look people in the eye. Don't fucking stare you odd-ball, just calmly look around you at take it all in. Believe it or not such an activity is perfectly natural. The most common location for People Spotting is of course the tube, due mainly to the large numbers of people and the frequency of their visitation. Vitally on tubes people avoid looking at you, pretend not to notice if you are a bastard starer (I've had them staring at me and it's very disconcerting, especially if they have a naturally disgusted expression. Still, their loss that not mine. Ugly cunts that they are), and you get to sit exactly where you are.

But the reason I bring this subject up is because I have experienced the elixir of People Spotting. A veritable temple for spotters if you will. This weekend I visited the Royal Festival Hall to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra reciting Mahler's excellent first symphony - and a bunch of his other work. I thought I was in for an evening of high culture. Believe it or not I sacrificed the opportunity to see Air in order to go. But I have no regrets - the evening threw up the most wonderful surprise. Yes the culture bit was superb, but the People Spotting. Frankly, my fellow members of the audience were a - whatever the collective noun of oddities is - of oddities. I'm sure that last sentence made sense.

For the first half of the recital the chap immediately in front of me who, like me had presumably also expended £20 on his ticket, had his head stuck in a small book which appeared to be nothing other than the Dictionary of Palmistry (which led to my friend and I conducting a loud and lengthy conversation about palmistry and the supernatural world in general). The gentleman in question was wearing a white Excalibur t-shirt. I mention this only because such details are a fundamental part of People Spotting. The shirt had a quotation on the back in italics which read something like: Come hold the Elixir. My immediate thought from the t-shirt's design was that he might be one of those people who participated in re-enactments of ancient battles. His wife was the plainest most sensible looking women I've ever seen. And so I have become convinced that the t-shirt related to a non-alcoholic beer.

Which of course is far worse.

You see what I mean about this place being better than the tube? The tube is but the common and obvious place to play - a beginner's playground. I was on the black run here at the top of the mountain on what seemed like virgin and untouched snow. And I had accompanying music. Dramatic accompanying music. Music that was reminiscent of war.

Royal Festival Hall: pantheon of People Spotting delights.

Next to my friend on my left sat a woman who would gasp and sob and clasp her hands at every change in mood emitted by the orchestra. To my right sat a couple in their fifties. The woman was nearest me and she was annoyingly leaning as far away from here husband as possible. Probably because he was intermittently falling asleep. I could sense her prodding him when his breathing became audible. When he was awake he would cough and then he would end this throat clearing effort with a strange low grumble, like an engine winding down. She would have been better off letting him snore.

These were the people nearest me. It occurred to me that many of the attendees were long suffering husbands who had been dragged their by their wives. These were middle class men, married to women who probably read the Daily Mail and can only be described as battle axes. Yes, us People Spotters get to stereotype wildly. Through the eighties and the advent of Thatcher, these women had gradually become accustomed to dominate their male partners in some horrible rising of feminine dominancy. The comparison that occurred in my mind was the way the One Ring had grown to dominate its various owners. From that you can read into the level of sexism I may or may not possess in whatever way you wish.

Encouraged by that success, I have taken to Cat Watching. My garden seems to be something of a playground for neighbourhood cats - of which there seems to be many (lots of lonely people needing company see?). Today one kitten, amidst attempting to pounce on a felled plastic watering can, suddenly noticed me watching it. Like all the local cats in this position it forgot its previous activity and concentrated on staring back at me.

I did what I always do. Act like a fool. Whenever I get into this scenario a grin unconsciously appears on my face and I start singing whatever tune is in my head substituting the single syllable "mmm" or "aaah" with the less traditional but more relevant "cat". Such a song might go: "cat cat cat cat cat, cat cat, catty cat cat, caaaaaattt...." whilst I jump up and down occasionally hiding behind a doorway and poking my head out. Cats have good hearing so their ears usually prick forward to strain to my melody. It's nice to know someone is making the effort to listen.

What the felines think of a grown man prancing about his house whist staring and singing at them is anyone's guess.

Makes me laugh even typing it now. Until now this was a secret shared only between me and a small community of local cats.

Sometimes I get an audience of two cats at the same time.

Happy days.

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