There are two kinds of compulsive talkers. There are those that babble on without any real concern if you’re listening or not; the kind for whom the sound of their own voice is, by definition, conversation. These are the easy sort; the sort that go down smooth with a glass or two of red; the sort that you can relax into like you might by a babbling creek or a windy beach. They demand no responses other than the occasional murmur of assent; they allow one to drift into a quiet, peaceful reverie.
The other sort of active talker is a little more difficult. The tone is tends to be strident, the topics those that challenge dissent of the hapless listener. They demand responses of more than one syllable. And worst of all – this sort of talker maintains eye contact and leans in towards you like a dentist who just spotted a new set of golf clubs in your mouth.
Unfortunately it was with one such friend that I ventured to a bar on Saturday night. Not only is she a compulsive talker but she has a strong streak of egoism – which means that she is always saying about herself what she should be saying about me.
I was kind of resigned to the fact and sat there mesmerised like a rabbit in the glare of her unending monologue. It’s not as if she knows a lot about everything; more that she talks alot about everything she knows. Didn’t I think this? And wasn’t such and such awful? And who did these people think they were anyway? Etc etc. Eventually the conversation moved on, as it always does with her, to right wing politics and the problems with unions, how no one wants to work any more and what this country needs most is another war – all topics about which she had long since beaten any resistance out of me.
I sat there on the shores of Dunkirk waiting for salvation.
Eventually an ageing and deeply offended drunk at the next table was unable to contain himself any longer. Apropos to nothing in particular he made his way a little unsteadily to our table. He placed his knuckles between the beer slops and sodden crisps, a kind of Churchill with palsy. “If your father…” he began and then stopped, obviously overcome with indignation and struggling for the right words.
“Do you know my father?” asked my friend, always earnestly ingenuous.
“No I do not,” replied the man with suppressed emotion, “but I can tell you now, young lady, I can tell you now…” He paused before delivering his final withering retort. “If your father were alive today he’d turn in his grave.”
Then he wandered off, shoulders back, leaving my friend to contemplate the full gravity of this ominous, if fundamentally flawed, portent.
And I, taking quick advantage of a lull as rare as one at the Somme, slipped quietly to the bar to buy myself a stiff drink. And then I bought one for Churchill.