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.

 

bike_chav

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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Thoughts, Images, Sounds….

I hadn’t been especially late to bed and had slept reasonably well, at least in comparison to the last two or three weeks. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve not been sleeping well lately. However tired I am, however much or little alcohol I consume during the evening, whether I go to be early or late, whether I have to be up or not, I’ve been waking up consistently a little before five in the morning. Once awake, I lie wondering how long it is before the alarm (the clock isn’t on my side of the bed, and the hands on my old, second-hand, wind-up watch are not luminous). I’m always aware that I’ve been dreaming long and hard, but can never recall any of the details, and more often than not, even the main body of the dream evaporates on waking. All I know is that my mind has been working overtime and I’m even more exhausted on waking than when I turn out the light – or leave it on, along with the television or radio in an attempt to create a background hum that will induce rest. And while Mrs N sleeps soundly through everything, nothing works for me.

So once again I awoke before the alarm and lay, semi-comatose and half-paralysed, too awake to return to sleep, to dopey to get up and commence any kind of constructive activity. It’s a little like anaesthesia, or how I imagine a Ketamine trip to feel. I haul myself out of bed and make myself ready without breaking free of my zombified state.

I open the front door. It’s light, despite being a minute before 7am. The street is bright and empty. I feel on the one hand that Spring really is just around the corner. On the other hand, it’s cold and silent and I feel as though the end of the world is nigh, or, worse still, that the world ended in the night and I am alone in this disconsolate, pot-apocalyptic northern city. Actually, would that really be worse?

Shunning thoughts of the 2012 prophecy to the back of my mind and plugging myself into my MP3 player – not a slick iPod with infinite capacity, but a 2-Gig Alba purchased 3 years ago from Netto – I head townwards with The Psychedelic Furs’ eponymous debut in my ears.

Walking onwards, ever onwards, and encountering no other pedestian and only a handful of cyclists who speed past me, I kept my eyes open and absorb whatever presents itself. I inhaled deeply and drank in the cool morning, my senses unravelling and my receptors slowly coming to life. The air was cold and clear, the ground dry, a frost on the roofs glinting against the clear sky. A mist hung over the Ouse. The water level was relatively low and the water still save for the occasional ripple of rising fish. Lendal Bridge was reflected almost perfectly, the infrequent cars crossing the bridge also crossing in them inverted version on the water below.

The bus is on time. I take a seat and pull my copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary from my bag. I’ve only been reading it for the last three days (and I only get to read in small chunks) but I’m already 30 pages in. The best thing about the bus part of the journey is that I’ve recently discovered that I can read on busses without becoming travel-sick. Two stops on and I’m compressed into half of my seat as some gargantuan, lumbering, fantasy-novel-reading behemoth had parked herself beside me. Her massive bulk occupies a full seat and a half and she’s still hanging into the aisle, her Kindle e-book reader looking like a PDA in proportion to her colossal, hulking frame. She smells, too. I feel nauseous, but fight the gag reflex in favour of soaking in the details of her pungent wet do aroma, her plum-coloured quilted coat, like a giant slippery sleeping bag. I can hear her wheezing even over the sound of ‘Flowers’. It’s painful, awkward and uncomfortable, but I remind myself, ‘this is research’.

For once, I am relieved to arrive at work.

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