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The Scrivener: A Public Nuisance

“'This isn't the Australia I came to 50 years ago,' said an elderly Hungarian man I stopped to have a chat with at a local shopping centre,’’ reports Brian Barratt, who learns more about the world and its ways from a chance encounter than would a sociologist from a month of formal study.

We were observing, from a safe distance, a group of about a dozen senior students from a nearby State Secondary College. Mostly boys with very loud voices. They had gathered at tables outside one of the cafés, and more were arriving while we watched. Another elderly chap had stopped to speak to them, probably telling them they were creating an obstruction on the footpath. I don't think his words were greeted gladly, or politely.

Some years ago, girls from a nearby Roman Catholic secondary school used to meet outside another of the cafés, generally making a noise and getting in the way of innocent passers-by. Shopkeepers had words with the school and put an end to all that. Maybe someone will report these raucous boys. Mind you, they weren't much noisier than a group of elderly ladies all talking at once round a tea-room table. You can't report chattering elderly ladies for creating a public nuisance, can you?

Meanwhile, I was learning more about Hungary, particularly about the prowess and strength of the Magyars who invaded the land so long ago. And that Hungarian is the best language in the world, more capable than any other of expressing facts and ideas. And that the Communist regime did not comprise true Communists, and early Christianity and true Communism have a lot in common.

We had a good natter on the street corner. My new acquaintance thanked me for being a good conversationalist because I listened as well as spoke. He listened too, but I wasn't sure how much he heard. After I had told him that I am English by birth and have Gypsy blood (which I knew would interest a Hungarian), he asked me if I am German with Jewish blood. Anyway, it was with firm, warm, farewell handshakes that we eventually went our separate ways.

After a brief chat with the ever-smiling Chinese couple who run the little café with a Dutch name, where I bought my usual cup of coffee and started working on the crosswords in the newspaper, I waddled across to the supermarket. One of those people who set up little tables and hand out free samples of something-or-other greeted me when I turned into the meat aisle.

It's nice to be noticed by the women who hand out samples. For many years, I was never asked if I would like to taste their offerings. Men were not recognised as potential customers. Things are different now, in these more enlightened times where men have achieved equality with women in supermarkets.

I did not particularly like the marinated chicken she gave me — a standard tiny taste on a toothpick — but that didn't put a stop to conversation. She was South African. I quickly picked that up from her accent. We lamented the state of affairs in some African countries, and I mentioned a relative in Zimbabwe who told me that she felt much safer there than she would in South Africa where there are many thousands of murders each year.

One of my current 'favourite' (although I don't like that word) programmes on TV is the serialised version of 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' based on the popular novels by Alexander McCall Smith. It is set in Botswana, a country adjacent to South Africa. However, when I raised that topic my conversation-companion told me that she did not watch it, in a way which seemed to imply that she did not want to watch it. So we moved on to another subject. There are racial and political issues which are sometimes wise to avoid.

We parted on a happy note when I asked her if she knew a song that was immensely popular in the 1960s. Thus we burst into the first verse and chorus of Jeremy Taylor's 'Ag pleez Deddy'. If you don't know what that means, or how to pronounce it, or what the song is about, do find it on the Web and listen to it on YouTube! You might still be puzzled, of course, but it's great fun.

Now I'm reflecting on the morning's events I wonder if an annoyed customer reported us for making too much noise and creating a public disturbance?
© Copyright Brian Barratt 2011


To read more of Brian’s delectable columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/
And do visit his engaging Web www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/


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