When I was eight I was walking down the promenade at Knott End when an old man came out of the post office, opened a letter and started reading it. My step fell in with his, and I started reading it too.
It took him a minute to realise.
Then he tore his eyes away from the letter and said, ‘Well you’re a right nosey parker, aren’t you?’
I was embarrassed at the time, but I’ve since realised what a gift and a delight it is to be nosey, especially for a writer.
The world is full of conversation snippets and moments of human interaction that are ready and waiting for us to collect and store away for later.
For instance, I never complain about people yelling down their mobile phones on trains; I take notes. I once heard someone say, ‘He always uses charm and other devious tactics,’ which is a line I still hope to use one day.
And who can deny the joy of walking around town at dusk with the windows lit up like stage sets and the curtains not yet drawn?
You have to hide it, obviously, this desire to be nosey. I was once listening to a mother berate her grown-up daughter for being a slack housewife. They were standing at the fruit and veg counter in Tesco and the daughter was trying to buy some pre-chopped vegetables. The mother said, ‘When did you young women stop being able to handle a carrot?’ I chortled; at which point they both stopped sniping at each other, and turned and glowered at me.
My daughter, also a writer, recently came back from Costa and repeated the following conversation she’d heard between a couple of college students who appeared to be having a date from hell:
Man: ‘Did you know you’re never more than five metres away from a spider?’
Woman: ‘What if you’re sky diving?’
Man: ‘What an intelligent point!’
I wasn’t surprised that my daughter was taking such notice of the world around her. When she was a toddler a woman in a cafe opened her handbag, but couldn’t see inside for the back of my daughter’s head.
I was so proud.