Dulltown, UK/Europe: Today’s quotation is from the Vladimir Nabokov novel King, Queen, Knave (1928), which I am currently re-reading.
‘… it was such a silly thing to do.’
Dreyer briefly cast up his eyes to a makeshift heaven and made no reply.
‘It’s your own fault,’ she repeated and automatically pulled at her pleated skirt, automatically noticing that the awkward young man with the glasses who had appeared in the door corner seemed to be fascinated by the sheer silk of her legs.
So, if your plane had broken a couple of blades off its propeller and crashed, and you found yourself walking aimlessly across the Sahara… and you were English… and you spotted in the distance another lost person walking towards you… and your paths were bound to eventually cross… would you say anything, as you hobbled within speaking distance?
Well, being English, perhaps not… although you might give a slight nod of the head in his/her direction as you passed; if the other person was English too they might respond in kind and then carry on trudging. I suppose if neither of you had seen another human for a day or two one of you might manage, in a guarded sort of way, a curt, ‘Good morning’; the other, if feeling unusually out-going and gregarious, might respond with, ‘Indeed, we could do with a bit of rain…’ Of course if the two of you were Yorkshiremen the exchange might take the form of, ‘Eh-up…’ and ‘Eh-up…’
I once heard or read, I can’t remember where, a piece of strategy for use when travelling on trains in this country – it went like this: If you find a seat, you sit watching the other passengers getting on and entering the compartment, you look them in the eye, grin broadly, and say, Hello!’ – you could of course also invitingly pat the vacant seat next to you. You will be guaranteed an undisturbed journey – well, in Britain anyway.
I don’t know what it’s like in other countries. Someone once told me that when they were in the US, travelling on trains, buses and planes, they were very often engaged in relentless conversation with strangers sitting next to them.
‘Hi there! My name’s Brad, Brad Munty, from Crystal Springs Mississippi.’ Over the next hour or two you’d get a complete life history, information on Brad’s wives and offspring, their serious illnesses, talents, hobbies, etc. and it would conclude with a firm handshake and, ‘Here’s my business card – if you ever find yourself in Crystal Springs, do give us a call!’
Many years ago I was having trouble hitch-hiking back to Dulltown (in the days when hitch-hiking was popular with young people). It was one or two o’clock in the morning, on a minor road near Thorne in Yorkshire – the road was empty of traffic. It was dark, November cold and a bit windy. A figure appeared on the horizon, silhouetted against the lights of a night factory, and slowly approached – a thick set young man who had a rather mean look about him. He stopped, and stood on the opposite side of the road from me as a light drizzle started misting down.
‘Are you heading for Dulltown, or Leeds?…’
‘Either, I don’t care…’
About three or four hours later we were on the first slow train of the day out of Thorne North Station heading for Dulltown.
We ended up in a blues band together, me playing guitar and him singing – he wasn’t that good though – he wanted to be a school teacher…