Monday, 10 August 2009

I was never Arnold Schwarzenegger

On Sundays, I like to get out of the house and take in some fresh air. There is nothing like walking for a few hours to cure a hangover. This not only helps with the physical ailments but also gives me time to deal with the emotional aftermath.

I change my walk every Sunday. Sometimes, I like to go along the coastal path that runs from Bangor to Holywood. It offers great views, over looking Belfast Lough. On any given day, there might be tall ships, views of the Seacat that operates a service to Scotland and occassionally grey Royal Navy frigets. On other occasions, I will walk in the opposite direction and go through The National Trust site that leads to the small village of Groomsport.

There is normally very little human contact on such walks but I do sometimes pick up the odd sentence that can be very entertaining. Yesterday, there were a couple of lines that it would be fun to build a story around. The first one came from a taxi driver who was standing chatting with his chums. "I was never Arnold Schwarzenegger, you understand." Just what the taxi driver might have been talking about opens up a whole world of possibilities. The other line was about the Man U vrs Chelsea match for the Community Shield. One guy, wearing a Man U top, was conducting a conversation with his mate on the other side of the road, "Are you heading to the bar for the match?" The response was automatic and without much thought, "No, I will be watching it on the radio!"

Sometimes though, I become introspective. The night before I had been chatting with a girl from Ballymoney, her Ulster Scots accent strong and mean.

"Can you speak English?" she kept asking me.

She was trying to be offensive. It is true that I do speak quickly. I was probably slurring my words but the other girls from South London, who I had been chatting to a little earlier in the night, didn't seem to have any problems with this.

I have had many years experience working in a call centre, talking with people from around the UK. English people rarely express difficulty with how I speak. With Americans or people from other Anglophone countries, this is also rare. I do often have problems with people new to the UK, or with some Scottish people.

This state of affairs is counter intuitive. The Northern Ireland accent is closer to the Scottish accent in tone and speed. On the face of it, it doesn't make any sense that this difficulty should occur. To have someone from Ballymoney express difficulty doesn't make any sense either. She lives forty miles from my home town and they really should be used to the accent.

While I thought about this, I realized that there might be something else going on. 'Put downs' often emerge from people who feel inferior. When they project feelings of inferiority onto others, this is a means of self over-coming.

The girl from Ballymoney was out with her mates- all of them single. The dynamic of that group seemed to be one of mutual aggrandisement. They supported each other morally, while angrily judging the outside world. Out on the town like a pack of wolves, they hunted down men with merciless ease. Yet, they would never be satisfied. They had already prescribed what a man should be like.

The girl told me that I should be funny. She thought that I should be good looking. She suggested that I be more articulate. On reflection, my supposed failings were actually spawned by her failure to be open. She was unable to get to know someone different. With this attitude, she will never find her man, for that man is an idealized figment, roaming about in her head. She was not prepared to be surprised.

After twenty minutes, I left her to it. There lingered bad feelings. It wasn't until my walk that I was able to exoricise these.

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