The knock on the door is either a welcome or unwelcome distraction. Actually, in these days people seldom knock on eachother's doors unannounced. Text, tweet, IM, Facebook have replaced this for people who are geographically close and close kin and, in other 'circles' where kin are distant and social diaspora is a fact - for example myself and RHB where our nearest friends are in Aberdeen, Bristol, the Wildings of Shrewsbury, London, Canada and New Zealand - the geographical seperatedness means that chums popping in for wet Wednesday and a biscuit is unlikely. Actually, given the geographical and linguistic diversity of our friends, if they did just pop in for a wet Wednesday and a biscuit, we would have to spend quite a while explaining what they were being offered, which would tempt me into a discussion about linguistic diversity, which would probably end up in a critiue of determinism which would spar RHB into an retort about anti-science and things would escalate from there.The cats would take sides and guests would be drawn into the debate. Four hours later, there would be a group of Interpretivists barricaded behind our table (which I would have mentoined that I had made personally) exchanging rifle fire with a group of Scientists who would be behind the couch. Truth and objectivity bombs would be thrown by the interpretivists, backed up by ontological mortars (which having been launched would land four hours later and open to display a nice bouqet of flowers) and epistemological surface-to-[experienced]-surface missiles. The Scientists would have reams of data fired from an SPSS cannon and hard-copy shrapnel grenades which upon bursting would shower the opposition with numbers although sometimes the numbers would just refuse to operate.
It is a scenario I wish to avoid happening, for obvious reasons, so when there is a knock on my door - and when, like Schroedinger's cat, I am neither "not in" nor "dead" and can therefore answer the door, and perhaps more importantly, be observed (by my own cats) in the act of answering the door - I hesitate for a second. Then I consider - this might be a delivery of books, a neigghbour needing assistance that Facebook cant help or "like", or a police officer with some important information. So I carefully "save" the transcript of the interview with a teacher I was pretending to be getting on with (while actually watching "Cats can be jerks" on You Tube), and answer the door. The answeree is a short woman, densely black hair, suntanned and sunworn face, stinking of cigarettes wearing a tweed skirt, green tracksuit top and massive furry boots. She has a woven basket full of what I can only describe as crap. Not real crap in the sense of animal waste products, you understand, but just rubbish 'stuff' that is a lot less useful than fertilizable manure.
"Godblessyasir" she says "howareyoudoingI'msellingsomecharmsforyerwifeGodBless"
She pauses and I nod, leaning forward about to deliver a killer smile and a "no thanks", a technique perfected over years of easily dismissing earnest Christians who are trying to sell God. Her pause is microseconds however, timed to perfection
At this point, there are a few things going on. I am thinking "The stuff in this basket really is a load of crap". I am also thinking "Nel will kill me when she finds out how much I spent on this crap". The lady - who is a traveller (travellers are also called "gypsy", "tinker" but I will stick with 'traveller') is hovering expectantly, an expert in reading people.
"Well" I say " I do need a pan scrubber"
""Two for four pound fifty" she says. I hand over four pounds fifty pence (approximately 100 times the going value of these articles) in exact change.
"A charm fer yer wife, cross yer palm I will, God Bless. Only three pounds each, fiver for two".
She has slowed down in delivery, the need for speed is gone. Now she needs only to be precise, patient and perfect - an angler at the top of their game judging when to haul in the fish. [Incidentally, I am not exagerrating the dialogue here it is about as word perfect as I remember].
I look at the 'charms'. They are Chinese made plastic key rings all with the letter "Y" at one end, or 1cm diameter polished stones in turqoise, green and orange - the type many people empty onto the surface of the soil in potted house plants to preserve moisture. They cost about one pound for a bag of twenty - a fact I know as I have recently purchased a bag.
"You have no "N" 's ? " I ask delving through the keyrings. The traveller lady looks confused and I think, based on the way she reacts - which is to just pick up the key rings (all "Y") one by one and show them to me - that maybe she cannot read. I am anxious to assert myself , so I trimuphantly state "Well, I cant buy a key ring. You dont have my wife's initials!" I have to admit that I actually feel, for a brief second, quite virtuous that I have managed to resist the temptation to buy a useless, overpriced, ugly item.
Following this triumph against the hard sell, I am keen to continue demonstrating that I am a man with a mind of his own, not someone who buys junk will-nilly! 'No' I think to myself 'when I buy junk it is because I am in control. It is for Good Reasons and I know what I am doing' so when a couple of crappy little glass stones are forced into my hand with "Fiver only there you are God Bless", I bargain hard. I pick one out of my hand and firmly hand it back.
"I only want one of these" I say, proferring a ten pound note.
"Gotnochange" says traveller lady.
I look at her with what, in some circles, is called 'askance'.
"I just gave you four pound notes and fifty pence in change" I say.
"Gotnochange. GodBless" says the lady and snatches the ten pound note from my hand, gives me the additional charm and a key ring and smiles "God Bless you sir".
I let her go with no further argument. I suppose I could have tried to strike a deal but suspect that I would have ended up handing over a lot more cash. And I dont blame the lady. I have cycled extensively in this city which is a hub for travellers. You hardly ever see them, particulalry the women and the sites they live in are in the worst, smelliest, dirtiest post-apocalyptic post industrial contaminated places imaginable. One traveller site I know of has a polluted silt filled river on one side that continuously smells of hydrogen suplhide, a paint factory on another and a tannery on the other. The way travellers are treated in much of Britain is effectively "Go away, we dont want you but we have a legal obligation to accomodate you so why dont you try living in this toilet". Its retrospective justification to say that I was trying to help because travellers are oppressed, and it would also be untrue. I was, by most measures, ripped off. But this isnt the traveller lady's fault - a combination of superstition and social conscience, guilt and solidarity, softness and pliancy on my part was responsible. In this case, I ripped myself off.
I dont tell RHB where the new dish scrubbers come from - there is no need because they both break the next day as I am using them for the purposes they are allegedly designed for. I give the key rings and charms to a neighbour's children who are respectively three, four and five years old. The kids are delighted to have "gypsy treasure' although I feel a bit guilty giving them this crap. I chat with the kids and their dad about the frogs in our pond which have just started emerging. The next day there is a knock at the door just when I am trying to SPSS some survey data. The children have come back, and drawn a picture of a frog, some treasure and a princess (I dont know where the princess comes from). The picture has the primitive brilliance of kid's drawings and is signed by them all in sprawling signatures that go along the top then down the side of the page. Lucky charms indeed.