J is for Just a Minute I’m Listening


I am a consummate and unapologetic eavesdropper. I don’t seem to have that filter that drowns out the sounds of other people’s conversations. I have the opposite. I’m like one of those spy satellites or email spambots that pick up interesting words or phrases and hone in on them.

I get it from my mother. The two of us can go to lunch and sit in absolute silence completely transfixed by other people’s conversations.

mount-nelson-hotel(1)My father once took us to the Mount Nelson in Cape Town for afternoon tea. It is very colonial posh.

A man in formal tails plinks away on a grand piano while you delicately sip tea in fine bone china and sample exquisite scones with just the right amount of fresh strawberry jam and cream.

It is the place where fathers take errant daughters at university in the Mother City to try to talk some sense into them.

Our conversation took a backseat to the one in the neighbouring alcove.

Daughter: “Daddy. I have had an epiphany!”

Daddy: “Really?”

Daughter: “I know you’re upset that I haven’t been going to varsity, but Daddy! I’ve found my calling.”

Daddy: “And what might that be?”

Daughter: “I want to study astrology.”

Daddy: “Surely, you mean astronomy?”

Daughter: “No Daddy! Astrology. You know the stars at your birth and how they affect your life?”

About now, both my father and I tried and failed to smother our giggles with clotted cream.

There was a pregnant silence.

Daddy: “So you want to quit medical school?”

Daughter: “Yes! I mean the stars are so more, well more, um… spiritual.”

Daddy: “I think we had better wait to finish this conversation until your mother can join us.”

Poor girl. I often wonder what became of her.

My personal favourite of overheard dialogue has to be the UFO abductees in the lift at the shopping mall. The lifts are notoriously slow and the journey from car park to shopping level takes a good few minutes.

Two middle-aged ladies and a gentleman about my own age arrived at the elevator simultaneously and entered together. I had obviously missed the start of their chat, but where I came in it was absolutely riveting.

Woman A: “You know what it is like?”

Woman B: “I know. I know.”

Woman B was like the South African equivalent of Sybil Fawlty.

Woman A: “When the UFO is hovering above your house and everyone is sleeping?”

Woman B: “I know. I know.”

alienWoman A: “And you’re lying there wondering how can they sleep through all that noise? Can’t they hear the aliens?”

Woman B: “I know. I know.”

Woman A: “They always come for me. They’re very nice about it really. I can’t understand all the fear.”

Woman B: “I know. I know.”

Woman A: “I’ve travelled all over the universe, you know?”

Woman B: “I know. I know.”

Woman A: “I’ve even had babies all over the galaxy. Hundreds of them by now.”

Woman B: “I know. I know.”

By now, the gentleman and myself were taking turns to stare at the walls, the floor and the ceiling. We both missed our floor in order to stay close to hear the mother of half the universe’s babies.

All good things must come to an end and as the door opened the two ladies left still continuing their discussion on the inability of other alien races to reproduce.

The doors slid closed again and we rose to our intended floor of departure.

Unfortunately for us, as the doors closed we chanced a glance at each other and my companion said sagely, “Must have been that last anal probe.”

By the time we arrived one floor up we were bent double and weeping in hysteria.

The doors opened, the waiting crowd surged forward, took one look at us and judged us completely insane and decided to wait for the next one.

Not that I am a sceptic about life on other planets, not at all.

I just fail to see why they would choose a post menopausal housewife from suburban South Africa to try to and widen their gene pool.

Surely with all that Star Trek technology they could take Mensa candidates or Elle McPherson?

Alright, I’m just jealous. I’ve never seen an alien or a UFO.

My mother and I spent one terribly uncomfortable night on a mountain top in Northcliff with the UFO Watch Group. It was very cold and they had no sense of humour about what they were doing at all.

To top it off, apparently the next weekend they saw a UFO.

And we missed it.


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