To set the scene… I had overslept and was running late. If you’ve read this https://trivialpursuits.org/2013/01/30/running-late-bloody-run-then/ you’ll know this never happens to me.

So it was that in dashing across the streets of London, I found myself waiting by a crossroads. And it was there, whilst waiting, that I was inauspiciously approached by a foreign lady. She walked up to me, pointed at my wrist and said something I didn’t hear. I looked at my wrist and saw I was sporting a Tabernacle venue stamp. Surprised she knew what it was, I exclaimed my astonishment.

Turns out she didn’t know what it was. She had actually asked for the time.

It’s been such a long… time… since anyone has asked me this question, no wonder I misheard. If iPads, iPods and smart phones have made anything redundant it’s not the idle house phone like people think, but the humble watch. Anyway, she didn’t have the time and I did, so I gave it to her. As far as I was concerned that was the end of it.

It wasn’t.

No, this lady then tried to… talk to me.

I know. What a weirdo.

She talked to me as we waited at the pedestrian crossing, she talked to me as we crossed the road, she talked to me as we reached the other side. All the way through, I was desperate, desperate to escape. DESPERATE. But when someone’s talking AT you, this is rather difficult. So I did what most British people would do. Nothing.

I just listened; listened as she explained she used to have a watch, but now doesn’t. That she normally charges her phone during the night, but last night she didn’t. That she had been lost two minutes earlier until someone had given her directions. At one point I stepped out into the traffic (I’m British, I’d rather be run over than talk to a stranger) but she kindly pulled me back, scolded my stupidity and continued nattering.

Now I don’t know if anyone else can relate to the quite overwhelming amount of agita I experienced as a result of this episode. Just remembering it makes me feel sick. Talking to people when I am not prepared, to me, is like being squashed into a matchbox with no air hole. Panicked by the ‘liveness’ of it all, I find myself saying things I would never normally say, like ‘cripes’ or ‘right-o’ or ‘gosh!’ Because I’m not really listening, I’m trying to think of a way out. And to disguise this, I become a polite, well-mannered robot – all smiles and cricket-English.

And then it gets worse. So much worse. For when the stranger finally stops talking I feel, awkwardly, that I should then start. And then I don’t stop. And then it’s the stranger trying to shut me up. I prattle on about all manner of things, everything, anything – the weather, public transport, chewing gum on streets. If I get truly desperate I even go so far as to manufacture a cough; a throat-burning croak just to give me something to do to fill in the awkward silences between drawing breaths.

Sound like a nightmare? It is. Did it stop me doing the exact same thing a few days later? Nope!  Shopping happily on my own. Shop assistant appears. This happens:

SA: Do you need any help?
Me: [NO] No, thank you
SA: I see you’ve picked that dress
Me: Yes.
SA: It’s very popular!
Me: Oh
SA: Though we’ve only got the smallest sizes on display here
Me: [Starts to panic]
SA: What size are you?
Me: [Has heart palpitations]
SA: Because you may need the larger size, and if so, I can go round the back to get it.
Me: Look bitch, fuck off, I don’t want your help.

No I didn’t say that. I’m British. No, I nodded and thanked her. I then told her my size (and by extension, the rest of the shop too) and we had a little laugh when she explained that yes I would need the size-up. I waited, red-faced like a raspberry, whilst she went to go and get it. I then babbled on about the wedding I was choosing the outfit for – as she walked me to the changing room – and asked her where her top was from – to fill in more time whilst she sorted me a free cubicle.

Once safely behind the curtain I had a meltdown. I didn’t even bother trying on the clothes. I just shuffled my feet to make ‘clothes-changing-noises,’ drew back the curtain, said the clothes didn’t fit, apologised, thanked her again, and then legged it.

Was I really sorry? No! Was I actually thankful? No! Then why the hell did I say it? I was furious with myself. I should have just grown a pair and told her to back off.

But then I wouldn’t be… British. And I’m certain I’d be far sorrier about that.

By Beenie Langley