Some people beg to be eavesdropped and Martin was one of them. I was sitting alone on the next table, in a pub. He had two accomplices and absolutely no intention of letting them speak. His voice made the beer mats shake, the half-pint glasses rattle and the pool table balls roll. When Martin went to the bar he sonorously ordered ‘something triple-hopped and zesty’ – Paul Robeson in CAMRA: The Musical. Back with his captives, Martin took a sip and then rolled the beer around his mouth, preparation for a coming soliloquy akin to licking a finger before turning the page. ‘Well, that was some trip,’ Martin said, imploring someone to say ‘Oh aye, where were you?’ They didn’t, which he took as a stamped permit to continue. ‘We stayed right out in the countryside, and just hung around reading about Far Eastern spirituality. I really think I’ve found a new sense of being, a oneness with nature. It just made me so aware of everything around me. I’ve begun to accept the world and see it for what it is.’ ‘Ye mean,’ said one of the captives, finally speaking up, ‘yiv goat yer heid oot yer erse, Martin?’
A van man hurtles his vehicle to the wrong side of the road, winds down the passenger side window and leans across, elongated seatbelt almost scything off his ear. ‘`Scuse me pal, is there a building site around here? My gaffer just said ‘Easter Road’.’ I try and think about building sites but instead notice he has a Dolly Parton CD on his dashboard. ‘Erm,’ I say, to reassure him. Then I remember that there’s quite a lot of mud and some yellow signs with ridiculous housing estate names near the Hibs ground, so send him in that general direction. When he goes past me again ten minutes later, I hide in a bush.
While there I start to wonder about all the other people to whom I have given rubbish directions. Everywhere I’ve lived and spent time enough to look like I know what I’m doing, there must be people still walking about going ‘I’m sure he said left at the lights.’ In Middlesbrough, I imagine, there are Ipswich Town fans from 1991 trawling the streets from behind desert island beards. In York, a family of Japanese tourists who only wanted to visit the Minster have ended up playing statues at the Jorvik Viking Centre. As I leave the bush I think: ‘how did I end up in Leith, again?’
I’ve always liked the way bus drivers wave at one another. In more romantic moments, I see it as an act of high solidarity. Mind you, it’s even more likeable when they don’t wave; I enjoy wondering what happened back at the depot and concluding it involved someone failing to replace the last of the staff kitchen milk. Bus drivers are real human beings like you and me, you know, regardless of how they’re portrayed in Tatler and Readers’ Wives. I like the way they ignore rival companies too. Imagine if we all did this – we work for Tesco so at a party we refuse to talk to a Sainsbury’s checkout girl and go out of our way to be rude to her Farmfoods equivalent.
I noticed recently – on telly, obviously; I don’t actually leave the house in case anyone asks me for directions – that train drivers also do ‘the wave’. I now wish to see it extended, though not along lines of vocation. Yes, we should wave to people we feel a kinship with, even if it baffles them slightly because they know not the reason. They might be left-handed or ginger-haired like you. Or, you might just fancy them, and how’s a friendly wave across the street for a perfect chat-up line? You can have that one for free. Just give me a wave next time I see you.
Are you still reading? Have you followed the page all the way down? I was watching the marvellous Old Jews Telling Jokes the other night. Not all of their jokes are one-liners. Some are 56-liners. Endurance tests. Listening, I began to get that familiar feeling of losing the thread. This is worse when someone corners you in a pub with a similarly elongated ‘funny’. My concentration lapses so quickly that I laugh at completely the wrong parts. I lose the will to live never mind laugh, glancing over the teller’s shoulder and thinking longingly back to a simpler time before the joke began. How did these ridiculously lengthy jokes come about? Were they designed by committee, or are they embellishments of true stories? I’m off to ask Martin.