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The Scrivener: It Helps To Pass The Time

…One day about 45 years ago, in Zambia, my next door neighbour popped in for a chat. On the spur of the moment, we decided to read to each other. From dictionaries….

People do daft things, says Brian Barratt. And some of those daft things add up to another splendid column!

To read more of Brian's words in Open Writing please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his exhilarating Web site The Brain Rummager

The other day, three men were sitting on the roof of the unoccupied home unit on the other side of the street. They couldn't have been workmen because they weren't working. They were just enjoying a chat. On the roof? Well, why not? People do daft things.

One day about 45 years ago, in Zambia, my next door neighbour popped in for a chat. On the spur of the moment, we decided to read to each other. From dictionaries. Flat on our backs. He was on the floor beneath the dining table, and I was under the settee. We opened our dictionaries at the same randomly chosen word, and read the subsequent words to each other, in an alternating sequence. The result was something like malice, malicious, malign, malignant, and so on. Great fun!

I'd be quite happy to do it again but there are two reasons why I can't. Firstly, if we did it again it would not be spontaneous. Second, he is now a retired senior company executive and has become Sensible, even Respected.

On another occasion, still in Zambia, I entertained a family to dinner. The main dish was not exactly standard cuisine — curried tinned pilchards with all the trimmings, including cabbage cooked in milk with desiccated coconut. Or something like that. More importantly, though, we didn't eat at the dining table. We sat on the floor and had our dinner underneath the dining table. All five of us.

I'd love to do that again, too, but it would be difficult. My friends, in this case, have not grown Sensible but they just happen to live many thousands of kilometres away. So, apart from being non-spontaneous, a repeat of the dinner would cost an awful lot in airfares. And, anyway, I don't think any of us could stomach curried tinned pilchards now, with or without the exotic trimmings.

And so we come back to those three men on the roof. There were a few additional features in the performance. A car was parked outside my house. The front passenger door was open, and there was a chap fiddling around with pieces of paper. A ute (utility pick-up) was parked on the other side of the road. It looked a bit like a plumber's vehicle, with a rack of tubular thingummies above the rear tray.

Overcome by curiosity, I had another peep through my front window a quarter of an hour later. The car and its contents had disappeared. The three men from the roof were now variously reclining and sitting on the front lawn of the home unit. Still chatting, still having a good time, still doing no work. Were they waiting for someone?

When I checked again, another 15 minutes later, they had all gone, and there was no sign of any repair or maintenance work having been done.

If you're familiar with Samuel Beckett's strangely intriguing play 'Waiting for Godot', you'll appreciate the scene. In the play, there is a lot of talking, people come and go, nothing significant happens, and Godot does not arrive. The two main characters sum it all up:

'That passed the time.'

'It would have passed in any case.'

'Yes, but not so rapidly.'

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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