Thursday, 27 September 2012

Beach Meetings

All of us have people that we know (and have known for many many years) who inhabit the very periphery of our lives.
More often than not, we know very little about them. We may share a nod and a cheerful "good morning" with them. We may know a little about their family, or their job or their history, but in very broad strokes they remain very much part of the scenery of our lives.

Recently I have been thinking about a lady I shall call Gwen.
Gwen was in my year in secondary school, in fact, if I think on, I now realise that she was in my primary school as well. She was, as I remember, an awkward girl who always seemed to be alone in school. Big busted, old fashionably dressed and frequently bullied, Gwen always looked an unhappy girl, but apart from knowing each other's name , our paths never really crossed in or outside school as we were growing up.
School, for me was a fairly unhappy place.

When I returned to Wales in 2005, I started to occasionally bump into Gwen . Invariably it would be at the beach where I would be walking on the promenade with the dogs and she would be sitting in a car reading a newspaper. Occasionally she would be joined by an elderly lady, who by the look of her had advanced dementia, but at other times she would be alone, save for a scruffy Scottish terrier who would be let out of the car on a long lead. I used to go to the each at different times every day, so guessed that Gwen spent long, long periods reading in her car

At these times we would always swap "hello" and would chat briefly , and even though a lifetime had passed since we were both in school, I still saw the lone, sad girl that I "knew" some 40 years before.
Earlier this week I arranged with my sister-in-law to meet for  a chat.
We met at a local market garden cafe during a rain storm and the place was packed with grey hairs having "coffee" and girlfriends "doing lunch". After we had sat down, I spied Gwen sat at a table and we nodded our "hellos". As usual she was alone, and looked it, and as usual ( and I know rather patronisingly) I suddenly felt very sorry for her.

I had the urge to ask Gwen to join us, but, of course I didn't. It would have been an awfully pompous and condescending  thing to do, after all what the hell do I know about someone I have hardly spoken to during a lifetime?, and so when we left, all I did do, was to stop to chat briefly.
I am glad I said hello. And I am glad I didn't ask her to join us, I can cope with the vunerable and the sad when they are animals.... but as for people?
Not a good idea
Despite a 40 year gap, perhaps I just don't want to be reminded of more unhappy times

49 comments:

  1. What a brilliant post John - this kind of thing happens all the time. Although I have never returned to live in my home area - there are friends from the past with whom I have lost touch and sometimes I ask myself should I make contact again - or should I let things lie. It is always a dilemma isn't it?

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  2. I typed a couple of my school bully's names into Google once, and found that they still lived in the old town. The only way I was allowed to contact them was via 'Friends Reunited'. F*** that. I left them alone.

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  3. its always interesting wondering what is going on in other peoples lives (which is why people are probably obsessed with fly on the wall documentaries,even though they are full of extreme people). I couldn't bare school and so wild horses wouldn't drag me to any sort of reunion, but it doesn't stop me being interested in what happened to people, but in a warped and totally nosy way. I did meet up with an old school friend once, about 10 years ago and to be honest it was a mistake, we had nothing in common and it was a fairly embarrassing and awkward evening not to be repeated.

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  4. As someone who has a facebook account but actually dislikes the whole thing, I find its only use is for looking up those many souls of whom you speak. At nearly 50 I feel a creeping need to look back at a past that was not easy or happy, but gives a certain connection that I didn't feel the need for before. People I worked with, went to school with, liked and hated. A very thought provoking post - thank you!

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  5. I don't think it would have been pompous or patronising. Last time I was in UK, 2003 or somewhere around then it was for the very sad task of helping my brother bury his three year old son so when I saw a girl I recognised as a similarly lonely class colleague crossing the road in front of my car I leapt out and shouted her name. We had coffee together and the next I took her to dinner. She was wonderful company and we always seemed to have interesting things to talk about. As I dropped her off, she admitted that she had never married (I had been too polite to ask). I told her that had I bothered to get to know her as well as I did now, I'd have married her like a shot. Two mature adults, almost middle aged, realising that they had really missed a chance.

    Even today, if I am sitting over at Rico's place with a bunch of friends having a good time and I see someone sitting on their own, I will always invite them to join us. Sometimes I realise just why they were on their own but I have made some amazing friends that way.

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    1. Good point,well made

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    2. Most people are intrinsically shy and it is such a shame becuase there are so many nice people out there amongst the dick heads. If only we had the balls to say 'Hello! My name is...'

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    3. And if we go back to your last post, 'Where do we go now?' have you noticed that when 'Real' Men who don't know each other get together there is a restrained aggression evident as they establish a pecking order, whereas you put two women together who have never met and within five minutes they have exchanged their life histories (including what utter bastards their husbands are) and by the second Gin and Tonic are planning their first holiday together?

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  6. I've connected with several of my old class mates over the years. It's interesting to see how life has treated them, and lovely to know, for most....it has been a happy and healthy journey.
    ~Jo

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  7. I'm with Hippo--not patronising at all. She could have said "No." On the other hand, you might have saved yourself an hour of "Woe is me" bitterness. One never knows.

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  8. It's quite possible that she hadn't spoken to anyone 'properly' for ages. If your paths should cross again, I suggest finding out more about her; you could be in for a shock!

    I believe that in Russia, if one enters a vast restaurant, where there is just one person sitting in the far distant corner, one automatically goes to join them.

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    1. cro.. now I feel like a real heel

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    2. Cro, in the Officer's Mess, as young officers during a guest night, seeing a lonely figure we were instructed to do just that.

      Sometimes, I have to admit, it was hard going!

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  9. I agree what would it hurt to spend an hour of your time with her? Next time ask her if she wants to walk her dog with you, at least you could talk about dogs if nothing else?

    Gill

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  10. During one of your chance meetings perhaps you might offer 'having a cup' some time. Reading this sounds like she could use a friendly sit down chat. Might do you both some good. What's she going to say? No? You'll still have the head nods in passing. Surely, couldn't hurt, eh?

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  11. Sorry you don't want to be reminded about unhappy times.

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  12. I think most people in my past are best left there.
    Jane x

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  13. Having read your post, and the comments, I'm now going to make an effort to speak properly to some of the people I just nod to and have done for many years...

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  14. John. I'll bet she had the same thoughts about you . :)

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  15. The unhappy encounters from my Childhood, I found some to remain only in my thoughts and not those others...however real those fears are to me I have gone back to battle a few, with still some remaining. I hear you John. xx

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  16. Nobody liked school did they? It would be rather jolly if you'd got it wrong and she was actually a hugely successful millionaire businesswoman who just enjoys her own time at the beach. I know - not very likely but nevertheless...

    By the way - I would never speak to anybody I was at school with. I'm not that nostalgic for pain!

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  17. she probably sits at home in her old, ripped chair, polishing a long shotgun....

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    1. a sudden knock at the door!...........

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  18. And you hate autumn?! Just look at what it has produced here John......a heartfelt reflection about a fellow human being who is probably asking herself the same question: Should I approach him and ask how his life has been?
    Nothing to fear at all John, giving someone your time is a gift, as you know.

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  19. There is only you that can decide that John. Personally I would have asked her. Sometimes we are meant to cross someone's path and by asking the question on your blog, I suspect you already have the answer to your question.

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  20. I think an invite to walk the dogs on the beach is a good idea, you won't feel so trapped if things go pear-shaped. Also...
    well perhaps I shouldn't even suggest it...
    but...
    she might be stalking you!

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  21. That's a tough one. I reconnected twice in recent years with schoolmates I hadn't seen since childhood (and wasn't really close with even then). After more than 30 years, we stumbled on each other and decided to get together. Both times were excruciating and I was so sorry I had done so. And then I felt guilty (still do) for feeling that way.

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  22. I reconnected with an old school friend at my 50th class reunion. She "friended" me on Facebook and asked for my email address. She then started sending me crap about the upcoming rivers of blood and read your Bible! I very politely told her to unfriend me forever! Who needs that?

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  23. I've just been reading Gwen's blog. She has posted about some sad lonely old twat that does nothing but walk his dogs at the beach. She wanted to avoid him so she went to the beach at different times, but he always there! He obviously had nothing to do.

    Then, the other day, she was off scoring some smack for her and the other middle aged satanist heavy metal freaks, prior to their ritual thrash-orgy and pie evening, when she spied the old fart in a coffee shop. She realised that he must really be a miserable bastard, because he was having to hang out with his sister-in-law!

    She was shitting herself that the freak would want to join her, but luckily she managed to curtail the conversation when he approached.

    Tomorrow she's doing naked sky-diving with the cast of Les Mis!

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    1. tee hee
      another good point , again well made

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    2. Laughing out loud at work here...
      -Cathy in Muskoka

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    3. Laughing out loud here too (not at work!) John, your blog is brilliant and you have some great commenters!

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  24. I think you need to trust your heart on this one. Even if she says no if you ask her to join you, i can't help feeling that she'll like that someone cared enough to ask.

    If you do ask, i'd make sure if was for a brief period of time, like an hour or less. If you find that you get on well and the hour flies by, then you can decide to stay on talking or agree to meet up later. If you find that after 15 minutes things are excruciating, then you know. I do hope that if you do ask and she says yes, that you both feel the same way about it. It can be a mess when one person thinks it's fabulous and other person finds it drudgery.

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  25. Worse than the memories is the not remembering. I was contacted by someone about my old junior school just the other day and I couldn't recall more than half a dozen people I shared six years of my life with. Very sad.

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  26. So many good comments. You really are the one who looks after all the lost souls. I was the very quiet bookish shy girl at school but I loved school. Unfortunately now I am the one that talks too much, I say hello and chatter and ask questions. You can see the other person practically backing away as I speak. But these days I am not as worried. You just never know what interesting people there are in the world to meet and connect with......

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  27. You have a lovely big heart.....

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  28. I think Hippo's right - she could always have said 'No thank you'.

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  29. Difficult one. It's natural to want to invite a lonely person to join you so you can cheer them up, but if their loneliness is self-imposed they'll simply be awkward and frustrating to talk to and you'll wish you hadn't bothered. On balance, you probably did the sensible thing to let her be.

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  30. I am not as nice as poeple think...
    I was going to keep my interaction to polite chit chat!

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  31. I'm torn, I don't know what I would have done. Part of me says what the polite thing would be, which would be to invite her, and the other knows all too well how awkward a moment can be when I realize I'm just being asked to join someone because they feel sorry for 'me!' :-)

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  32. Loving the comments as usual especially The idiot Gardener. It's a no brainer for me ... I talk to everyone anytime. I never used to... I was the shy kid at school xx

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  33. I'm with Hippo here, being the Mother that stands alone in the playground whilst they all gather in three and fours, chatting . . . I often wish someone would say hello. And yes, I have tried to acknowledge them in some way . . . No go. Good job I got my laptop ;-) full of friends x

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    1. gawd I feel even worse now!

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  34. We once invited a lonely old woman to join us in a holiday picnic. It was interesting. She totally dominated the gathering, in spite of its being outdoors, and gave us her views on everything. Now if I ask "Should we ask Janette?", the NO is resounding.

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  35. Oh dear,there's an awful lot of vulnerable and sad people out there just waiting for any kind of human connection. Your friend Hippo seems to be a decent sort... and The Idiot Gardener's comment was spot-on. Better to give folks the chance to refuse your offer than to do nothing at all (and let you feel 'gotten at', I'm speaking in general terms too!).
    Note to bugerlugs63 :: you already have something in common with those other women, your child/children attend the same school, that'll do for openers.Courage, my friend.

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  36. edited to amend 'let' to 'lest'!

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  37. hi John, thanks for another insightful and thought provoking blog. it's so hard sometimes isn't it; being intrinsically selfish i know i don't want to approach that person in the corner and have them use up my precious coffee alone thinking time, but i'd hate it even more to know they went home alone to a cold, grey existence - of course they may well just be having a warming cup of coffee after the naked sky diving :-). I guess maybe it's fear of making a connection we then regret but feel obligated to continue.
    Anyway your blog is great and i love reading it. Thanks

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