I’m going to visit my hometown soon. It’s great to see my family and friends, all in one handy place, as that’s the only time I come home really, for a reunion or celebration of some kind. It’s a handy meeting place. What I’ve found, as time goes on, is that the bits in between lovely home-cooked meals and casual drinks are potential minefields.
If you come from somewhere like Manchester or London, it’s probably a lot more difficult to encounter these problems, unless you’re Pete Doherty. And even then, I mean, they would be the least of his problems. But I come from lovely rural Shropshire. Where the towns are small and the locals are referred to as ‘monners’, often speak a bit like farmers and spend their leisure time outside the local chicken shop opposite the local Wetherspoons, because their fake ID didn’t work on the bouncers. If I were to go into Wetherspoons, I would encounter at least five people I know, whatever time of day.
On a Saturday night, say, this would be multiplied by several times. Christmas Eve is the height of its social calendar; with sexy Santas from five years below me in school (I thought they were 11! They’re not allowed to be here) and ten-person deep queues at said Wetherspoons. It’s inevitable that I bump into old friends, nay, acquaintances, from school or ‘people I met in town’. This usually ensues in five minutes of uncomfortable chat over the not-too-distant rumble of hundreds of people getting ‘para’ as it’s commonly known there. We don’t really have anything in common in school so the chat is quickly brought to an end. ‘Right, I’d better get back to my mates. You going to [local nightclub]? Cool. We’ll have a big catch up there, yeah?’
I avoid them like the plague for the rest of the night.
Another excruciating moment is seeing people I haven’t interacted with since 2004, when I left secondary school. There’s the eye-contact and then the hastily looking away. SO WHY THE FUCK DID YOU ADD ME ON FACEBOOK AND SOMETIMES LIKE MY STATUS? Total mixed signals from that tosser who used to throw paper aeroplanes at unwitting girls in biology.
Even worse is the supermarket. I’m going around the supermarket to ‘supervise’ what brand of gin my mother will buy and I bump into someone I recognise but can’t remember quite how I know. We have to do the whole, ‘GREAT TO SEE YOU! How are things?’ thing whilst going through our mental rolodexes and coming up with shit all idea as to how we know this person. We have to go through the facade of being interested in what the other person is up to and finally, one of us makes a feeble excuse about defrosting chicken and we go our separate ways. Five minutes later, in the cheese aisle, shock horror, it’s whats-is-name again. Luckily at this point, we can get away with a ‘fancy seeing you here again’ nod, and be on our way. It happens again a third time. SHIT. I have to pretend to be engrossed in the different brands of Roquefort and wait for a safe amount of time and wait til they’ve passed. If, God forbid, it happens a fourth time, for Christ’s sake, cut your losses and run to the checkout. It’s just not worth it.
Finally, seeing people around in non-specific places. At the bus stop (I PRAY we’re not getting the same bus). I can hold a conversation for a couple of minutes whilst we wait for the bus, but if we both get on the same one, what the hell is the correct etiquette? Are you supposed to sit next to them and have yet another uncomfortable exchange, or appear a little rude and sit at least six seats away from them, and both secretly breathe a sigh of relief? And what about a perfectly nice conversation you have with someone that you actually quite like, but you say goodbye to them and then end up walking the same way? One minute, you were laughing and joking like the old days, but after you say goodbye, it’s suddenly completely different. God, all that easy chat has been replaced with the memory of the strained attempts at normality.
When I go back to unfriendly, anonymous London, I’m often grateful for the fact that I don’t know anyone in nightclubs, supermarkets and that there are more than five buses a day and several different routes for getting home. Because if you want to avoid anyone, it’s way easier.