The noisy table…

Posted by on Apr 25, 2018 in Blog | 2 comments

Deciding a visit to the UK would not be complete without a meal at the local pub, last night Rosemary and I took advantage of the two for one pricing of the mixed grill, and prepared for a new experience. Downstairs was super busy so we retreated to an upstairs corner. Only four tables were occupied – one with four older people, another with a middle aged couple, a single person at yet another, and then the two of us made up the fourth. We thought it would be ideal – not too noisy, a place for a pleasant conversation debriefing on our day of exploring Lincoln Castle and its surrounds.

Turned out we were wrong. One table was just so noisy – almost deafeningly so. And here’s the thing. It was the table with the sole occupant. Turns out she was on a dinner date – an on line Facetime dinner date, her partner away in another country. How do I know? Truth to tell, I would have preferred not to, but there simply was no missing any word of their highly amplified conversation. It seemed almost bizarre. There she was sitting all on her own, but totally involved with another person with whom she was enjoying a meal together. At least there was no argument afterwards about who was paying the bill.

It set me thinking about the many new ways in which we now relate. It is perfectly possible to be out on a date with someone who is thousands of miles away. Perhaps this couple found that their ideal jobs have forced them to live in separate cities – but are determined that this does not have to impact their relationship. They had no shortage of things to talk about – often with good humour, sometimes with more of an edge to their voices (actually, her tone was often rather shrill. She wasn’t someone who hid her feelings). And it was clear that though I was very conscious of the presence of both of them in the room, they were blissfully unconcerned by my occupancy – or that of anyone else in the room. I wonder if she even noticed we were there. I’m certainly not expecting her to write a blog post of the experience.

Last nights scene repeats itself over and over. It’s more common when walking down the street. The stranger alongside you starts to speak. Politely you ask them to clarify their question (“sorry what was that?”) when you awkwardly realise they are not talking to you at all. They are on their phone to someone who is located who knows where. On the train to Lincoln I got an excellent insight into the work dynamics of the man sitting across from me. He really doesn’t like his boss. Considers her an absolute hypocrite, only interested in furthering her own career, and consistently claiming credit for work he has done. He’s not sure what to do about it, but was urging his fellow worker not to be fooled by her and to do his best to trip her up. Actually, his language was somewhat more colourful (or is that predictable?) than mine. And yes, he was still on to go and get trashed tonight with the person he was talking to.

Did I want to hear any of that? Actually, I find people really interesting, so I didn’t mind at all – but the point is that unless I was stone deaf, I had absolutely no choice but to hear. Without speaking to me at all, the man had told me a great deal about his life. However, I imagine he would have been deeply offended if I had tried to introduce myself into the conversation, (“have you thought of…”). The unwritten rule seems to be that you pretend that you are both invisible and hard of hearing – your co-location an inconvenient and irrelevant accident. The irony is that it is easier to get to know about the stranger alongside you than it has ever been before – but actually getting to know the stranger seems far harder.

This is not a “tut tut” post (“my, things aren’t the way they used to be”) – it’s a genuinely curious post. How do we build bridges into the lives of those around us? When people who are on their own turn out to not be on their own, or when people are willing for you to overhear intimate details about their life because they are confident that you will never be a part of their life and your view is therefore of absolutely no relevance to them – well, it’s a new kind of a challenge. One thing I do know, I’m no longer going to assume that a person sitting alone at a table is going to make up the quiet corner of the pub.


  1. Brilliant – Brian. Incredibly engaging. It is a perplexing irony that we are simultaneously becoming more isolated and more exhibitionist. I love reading your posts. Thanks.

    • Thanks Greg. We live in an interesting world. Hope things are going well for you.

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