Things to talk about when passing the time

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When I’m out for a walk with Susie Whippet, I’ve learned not to try passing the front door of the Royal Oak during opening times.

She invariably tries to pull me inside. At only 18 months old, she’s too young to drink alcohol so that can’t be the attraction.

She certainly likes going there and I’ve come to the conclusion that she has either fallen for the charms of Marco (the dog who lives there) or that she knows that there is a nice soft warm carpet and other customers will fuss over her.

I got dragged in there last night and I’m glad I did.

Verna was behind the bar and we were chatting as she pulled a half pint of one of my favourite beers for me.

“How do you get ideas for your newspaper column?” she asked.

I don’t think it is giving any secrets away to say that most of the ideas come from what people say or from what I see.

They’re usually the small and possibly inconsequential things which are unusual or out of context.

They are things which I find interesting and hope that readers will do too.

Things like Verna’s car.

It’s nearly 18 months since I first saw and commented upon the wording on a car parked outside. “Powered by Fairydust” it said.

It amused me and it amused other people.

I’d asked at the time if anyone had any knowledge of this revolutionary power source and if it was cheaper to run than petrol.

On another occasion when we walked in there, it was to overhear someone being described as a sort of person you’d never wish to ask how they were – because the reply would be in great detail; take too long and you’d heard it all before.

It’s become a sort of greeting which people say to each other and don’t really expect an answer.

“They don’t even listen to a reply if one is given”, said one of the people present.

He’d recognised how insincere the words often were when passing a friend in the street.

His reply to the question had usually been “fine” but on this occasion he’d said “terrible” and started to relate the story of his troubles, when the friend said “that’s okay then” and walked rapidly by; not even listening to what had been said.

Three or four days later when they did stop for a conversation, his friend was truly shocked to learn what his reaction had been.

In days gone by the normal greeting to a stranger would be “good morning” or perhaps g’day if the stranger was wearing an Australian bush hat.

It’s a safe opening remark which can sometimes lead on to a conversation about the weather.

But nowadays every checkout cashier or telephone salesman seems to have been trained to ask how you are as part of their customer relations training.

If they don’t know you, can they really be interested in the answer?

We had been discussing this when a friend walked into the bar.

“How are you?” I asked. “Absolutely average” was the reply.

Now there’s a reply which makes you stop and think.