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The Scrivener: I Am Not A Minger

The inimitable Brian Barratt is a man who thrives on conversations with those he meets along his daily highway.

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We humans think we're at the top of the tree but it seems we can catch nasty bugs and diseases from all sorts of other animals — monkeys, pigs, chooks and even horses. When HIV/AIDS arrived in our midst, a few folk in an ill-informed fringe of society declared that it was God's punishment for sin. Medical research showed that forms of HIV are found in chimpanzees and African green monkeys. Perhaps God was punishing them, too?

During a chat with a lady behind the counter of a local shop, we broached the topic of infections from animals. Perhaps it was because we were talking about the possible pandemic of swine flu. I commented that AIDS probably came from monkeys in Africa. Oh no, she didn't believe that. She didn't believe in evolution. She didn't believe in medical science. She believed what the Bible says. One meets all sorts.

Fortunately, not all conversations lead into such weird ideas. In another shop, two young ladies were serving at the counter. One gave you your purchases, the other took your money. While the first one sorted out what I needed, the cashier was reading a Penguin paperback.

"What are you reading?" I asked, with a smile. She was reading Pride and Prejudice. Now that was a pleasant surprise.

"Is that a set book at school?" I asked, because she looked young enough to be at school. No, she was reading it for pleasure. The pleasantness of the surprise was compounded, and we had a good chat which rapidly encompassed literature, films, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Shakespeare, until a queue formed behind me. Not really a queue; just one person. He smiled when I apologised for keeping him waiting.

There's rarely much point in trying to chat with the people behind the counter of another of our local shops. The younger ones have nothing to say and the older ones — though they're still in their young 30s and 40s — prefer to speak to the person standing behind you. They have a way of making you feel invisible while they take your money.

I certainly wasn't invisible when I went to see my doctor the other day. Two secretaries, or receptionists, were on duty and I was welcomed with a bright, "Hello Brian!" It was late in the afternoon. The rows of plain but comfortable chairs against two walls of waiting room were empty. However, one chair had been moved forward and was next to the little table which is loaded with magazines, some of them quite recent.

"We've kept a special chair for you," announced the smiling lady behind the counter, if I may call the ledge in the window of the office a "counter". That led into a daft sort of conversation about being the centre of attention, at the middle of a group, the life and soul of a party, and a mingler. Perhaps I invented that word. The ladies were a bit puzzled, thinking I might have said minger. So I explained how at company cocktail parties in past years, when everyone stood in their self-contained cliques, I mingled muchly, urging them to move around a bit more and chat with people outside their own group.

That's the nice thing about conversations with people behind the counter. If they respond, you both move outside your own group and have a jolly good natter. It's mingling in public and it's well worth making the effort.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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