Overheard Dialogue: When the Context Isn’t All

I’m not one for catchprases, by and large, although I suppose I do have a few, one of which is ‘the context is all’. I think it’s a handy line to wheel out when the occasion calls for it, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. That I don’t always hold the opinions I express is something that some people seem to find problematic, but that’s a whole other issue. Anyway, one thing I really enjoy and collect avidly, is overheard dialogue. Some of it I’ve managed to use in my writing, although much of it I simply cannot imagine incorporating in a million years.

Perhaps perversely, it’s this unusability that appeals to me when it comes to overhearing fragments of other people’s conversation. Being fragmentary, the exchanges are received without any context, and often I’ll find myself wondering what possible context could ably and appropriately frame them. I find this game an amusing distraction when the mood takes.

Of course, sometimes, overheard snippets don’t need a context or are perfectly self-contained, and don’t require any kind of ponderance. They’re gems in themselves, and even if they can’t be used as material, they exemplify the absurdity of life. Take, for example, the two conversations I happened to overhear pieces of on Saturday night, on my way to and from the pub. It was a cold night, and snow had fallen heavily and was lying around four inches deep. A general quietness had descended as most had chosen to remain indoors, save for a crazy few – and myself.

The latter conversation was, by all accounts, grim, and pure Jeremy Kyle. A drunken not-quite couple of indeterminate age (somewhere between late thirties and early fiftes) were loudly parting company in the street. By which I mean they were involved in a lengthy slanging match. Both were equally vocal, with the woman informing the man that he was a ‘fucking scumbag’ and that she was going to report him for rape. ‘You’re gonna get ten years fer rape’, she told him – and half the neighbourhood, repeatedly.

‘You’re not worth a wank!’ he retorted. ‘And don’t try phoning me neither.’

‘’Ave you nicked my fuckin’ phone? You’re a fucking scumbag, a rapist and a thief!’ she hollered. By this point, a railway track divided the pair. Yet still they continued.

‘Aye, fuck off. So are you coming round later?’

Ok, so perhaps I might be able to use that at some point, and the context is more or less self-explanatory and doesn’t require a great deal of imagination. It is, after all, a pretty mundane scenario, sadly.

Conversely, the altogether briefer exchange I overheard on the way out was of an entirely different nature, and was a prime example of dialogue that one simply could not make up. In the driving snow, two voices came from behind me.

‘I’m freezing,’ moaned the female voice.

‘I’m not,’ replied the male voice bluntly.

As the pair of them cycled past, he more or less dressed for the weather, she without so much as a coat and the waistband of her CK undergarment riding high above her jeans, she called to him, ‘Yeah, but you’re wearing, like, three pairs of jackets!’

No wonder he wasn’t feeling the cold.



A chav on a bike, before it snowed. He’s nice and warm. Must be all those tracksuit tops and the comfort of having a baseball bat tucked subtly inside his clothing.


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Tales of Everyday Banality: What’s Your Flava?

    ‘Hey, look what I won, a mug with chocolate things on sticks.’
    His colleague looks up. ‘What’s that?’ she asks.
    ‘It’s a mug, right, and…’ reading the instructions on the chocolate swizzle stick, he explained how ‘you pour boiling milk into the mug and then stir the chocolate thing round on the stick till it melts and you’ve got hot chocolate. Two flavours, mint and bourbon.’
    ‘Yeah. Do you want one? I don’t really want both. I’m keeping the mug though.’
    ‘Yeah? Oh, thanks, yeah.’
    ‘Which d’you fancy?’
    ‘I don’t mind, whichever you don’t want.’
    ‘I think I’d prefer the mint chocolate, so you can have the bourbon,’ he says.
    ‘Ok, cheers. I’d never have thought of making bourbon flavour. that’s really unusual.’
    ‘Innit? Weird. That’s why I’m sticking with the mint. I know what to expect. I can’t really imagine bourbon flavoured hot chocolate.’
    ‘Oh I’m sure it’ll be nice. I like bourbons.’
    ‘Me too, but I’m not sure about the flavour as a drink, y’know?’
    I can take no more.
    ‘Surely it’s bourbon flavour,’ I interject.
    The girl looks as the chocolate swizzle stick she’s been given. ‘No, it says bourbon flavour.’
    ‘Yes,’ I reply, but bourbon and bourbon are spelled the same but are pronounced differently.’
    ‘Are you sure?’
    ‘Positive. And I’d wager that it’s bourbon whiskey flavoured chocolate rather than biscuit flavoured chocolate.’
    ‘It might be biscuit.’
    ‘But I would expect that it’s probably whiskey.’
    ‘Well I’m going to drink it at the weekend and I’ll let you know if you’re right next week.’


    ‘So,’ I begin, trying to suppress a smirk, ‘was it whiskey or biscuit?’
    ‘The hot chocolate thing you had. The bourbon / bourbon chocolate on a stick, what flavour was it, whiskey or biscuit?’
    ‘Biscuit,’ she replied.
    ‘No? Really?’ I couldn’t hide my incredulity.
    ‘Yeah. Well I didn’t have it in the end, my friend did, but she couldn’t taste any whiskey. I looked at the ingredients and there was no alcohol in it, so it must have been biscuit.’
    ‘How would you taste biscuit?’
    ‘It mostly just tasted of chocolate, but there was definitely no alcohol. So I was right all along, it was bourbon, and not bourbon.’
    ‘But why would they make biscuit flavoured chocolate?’ I asked, amazed.
    ‘Well they make chocolate flavoured biscuits.’
    There’s no arguing with logic like that.


And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk