I suspect I’m not the only writer for whom the question ‘Do you sit around on buses and in coffee shops listening to other people’s conversations?’ comes up a bit. It ranks maybe third in frequency, behind ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ and ‘How much do you earn?’.
It happens that I sit at home most of the time, by myself in a little room where I make my characters’ conversations up, rather than taking dictation from someone I don’t know who’s lingering over a latte and spilling some kind of beans. Maybe other writers do it differently. I know plenty who spend a lot of time in coffee shops. Most of them are making the coffees, the others are escaping something and getting their serum caffeine levels right. I’m not sure that they’re there to listen.
But I’m just back from dinner at the Hotel Franklin in Adelaide and may have to change my answer to the third-most-asked question to yes. At the next table, an English tourist was talking to two Australian friends about his time here. His Sydney highlight was that the bats in the Botanic Gardens were ‘as big as fuckin chickens’. His Melbourne highlight was when two friends tied him to a chair and shaved his head. Then he started talking about people.
‘You know,’ he said, ‘of all the people I’ve met in Australia, Ross and Kev would be right up there. I mean, right up there.’
‘And Damian,’ his tall friend with the beanie said. ‘You’d have to include him. He stole the sheets from a brothel and ran around pretending to be a ghost. And then he realised he didn’t have any pants on. And THEN he realised they were really long sheets, so he could piss pretty much whenever he wanted and no one would know.’
There was a pause. The tourist drank his beer.
‘Yeah, you’re right,’ he said. ‘He’d be right up there too. That’s what I Iike.’
So maybe I should listen more. Maybe I should get out more. In decades of writing, I don’t think I was going to make up Damian. Or someone who would rate him for that brothel form.
Anyone else heard anything they never expected to in a nearby conversation?