The other day I was in my local library, showing my daughter Millie how to use the new scanning machine to check out her books. Such are libraries, twenty-first century style.
In the middle of my fatherly demonstration I heard a very deep voice coming from behind me:
“Excuse me, excuse me…sir. One moment please?”
Sir. Though I appreciated the respectful address, it didn’t fit me well. I turned to see a man sat at one of the computer consoles, pointing towards me. “Are you English?”
When I told him that I was, he beckoned me over and asked for my help. He wanted me to check over an email that he was drafting for spelling mistakes. Actually his spelling was excellent, using words that most people rarely use. It was the grammar that was a problem. The words were all jumbled up, some of the sentences not making sense.
“I am from South Africa-can you make this sound better?”
Feeling under pressure to make sense of my own language when it was difficult to understand exactly what it was that he was trying to say, I read and re-read the lines, aware of an increasingly impatient little girl beside me. Time marched on. The guy kept turning from the screen expectantly to me. Where were the librarians when you needed them? Replaced by damn scanning machines.
I asked him twice what it was that he wanted to put, before it sunk in. In a nutshell, he wanted to send an email to a university in America, and the gist of the message was :
You asked me to write to you to apply for a place on your course. I applied in good faith, but did not get that place, so I am suing you. Please reply with an answer that will make me happy.
Right then. Okay.
I deleted a couple of words and jumbled some others around for him, then returned to the scanning machine with my daughter. I placed her books onto the tray, then..
“Excuse me please…..just one moment”.
About turn, shepherded Millie back over to his desk again. “Yes?”
“Can you do something with this bit please? I want their reply to please me.”
He was pointing to the line about suing the university. ” Erm..it sounds okay.. ” Just what type of response would please him? Did he expect a change of decision about being accepted on the course, or did he want compensation? “When you say you are suing them…?”
He broke into a huge smile, “It is all a game!” Deep chuckle. “I write to them, they write to me. It is all a game we play!” The chuckle was loud and drawn out, other people began to look, and I felt Millie’s hand in mine.
I smiled, backed away, got Millie back to the machine, and checked her books through in record time. I don’t think she had a chance of understanding any of it. I would show her next time.
We brushed quickly past the guy as we headed for the door when, suddenly, behind me, I heard:
“Excuse me, just one moment please!”
Millie foolishly began to turn, but in one movement I placed one hand on her left shoulder, propelling her through the door, my right hand swiveling her head back around, face front, that fast that she could have got whiplash.
“Keep walking Millie, and never, ever make eye contact.”
“What was that man talking about?” she asked as, with my help, she descended the front steps without touching them. “And what game was he playing?”
I tried to explain, again struggling to make sense in my own language.
After our close call escape, we dove into the local McDonald’s. While drinking her milkshake, Millie flicked through one of the library books that she had loaned out. As I tried to have a coffee in peace, the conversation from the table in front started drifting my way. Basically, a girl of about nineteen was telling an elderly woman who could have been her gran all about her sex life with some lucky, nameless beau. I don’t know if the woman actually was her gran-I know I would never have dreamt of talking to my gran in that way. But she looked bored to tears, eyes drifting around the restaurant while the nubile nymph animatedly went on, not even attempting a play at discretion.
I guess it is the lot of every new generation to think it is the first to discover sex. And the role of the older one to keep its common ground of lost moments close to its thermal covered chest.
It is all a game. All a game we play.
I don’t know when City Jackdaw turned into Dear Diary. I guess ‘Notes On A Life’ includes our most mundane moments, as well as our ‘Finest Hour.’
Still waiting for that one. Can’t see it arriving in McDonald’s.