Writing about those observed

I was caught on the hop last time we had a writing group meeting – this is not either of  the writing groups I lead, nor my Weston writing group, Writers in Stone; nor my other writing group The Moving Dragons Write. This is a Somerset U3A group (University of the 3rd Age) who meet once a month in each others’ homes and write to a suggested topic. The person who hosts the meeting suggests the topic. I forgot this last time when I was hosting, so had nothing prepared and had to have a quick think. Usually it is a topic such as ‘Earth’, ‘Serendipity’, ‘Thinking outside the box’, but I thought of a different idea – to observe two separate unknown people and imagine them together in a situation. I thought it would be a good idea to practice observation and write from life, and I hope avoid stereotypes which can spring into our brains when we try to imagine something. Because I didn’t communicate this very clearly, and people were getting their coats on and getting ready to leave, my garbled suggestion was more open than usual to interpretation!

I brought a piece I had written before, and the two characters were someone I had seen waiting for and then getting on a train, and a man working in a bar. I slightly tweaked the subject by having the narrator as the person I had observed getting on the train. He went into a bar to meet someone and he watched the barman working busily. I wondered whether people would realise that the narrator was a man as I’m obviously a woman reading it… and someone did fall into that error, even though I  said outright in the story that it was a man!

I have shared this before, but here it is again:

I recognised him… I don’t mean I knew him, I didn’t, I’d never seen him before, but I recognised him as the sort of man I’ve met many times, the sort of man I’ve become.
It was impossible to tell if he was bored with his job, hated his job, was indifferent to his job, but you could tell he was good at it. I’d worked bars, not recently, but at different times in my life and the work had been an anaesthetic. Behind a bar there’s always something to do, wiping the bar, changing the barrels, cleaning the pumps, stocking the shelf and the chill cabinet, always something to keep you busy… and he needed to keep busy as I had, at certain times, in the past.
I was waiting to meet someone, meet a guy I might need to do a job for me. If the guy I was due to meet looked like barman I’d employ him straight away. There was something about his vigilance, the sort of watchfulness a cop has, there was something about the quick, efficient way he moved even though he was a big man, tall, lean. I felt he’d summed me up in a long glance, just as I’d summed him up.
Anyone else looking at him, maybe a woman who thought he was interesting, might wonder why a man so obviously intelligent and strong was working a bar… there can be many reasons. His clothes were neat, long black collarless shirt, not tucked in, sleeves rolled back to just below his elbows (style? Or to conceal a tattoo?) black baggy trousers, tight at the ankle and solid, comfortable boots which would carry him as many miles as he wanted to work.
I looked at my watch; the guy I was meeting was late… unless he had a very good reason, he wasn’t the guy for me. If he had been smart he might have arrived early, inconspicuously and sat somewhere, to watch and wait for me, to size me up. He wasn’t that smart, I’d checked him out, I knew what he looked like… so no, I was really thinking he was not going to be working for me.
“Another, sport?” the barman asked. He had a low deep voice, was polite but not servile, pleasant but not chummy. He called me ‘sport‘, which was odd, reminded me of my old man… my old man, long dead, he’d been an old man when I was born…
“Same again, sport,” I replied. Our eyes met and there was a flicker of recognition in his long, grey gaze. he knew me as I knew him, although we had never met. “Can I get you one?”
I thought for a moment he was going to say something along the lines that he was the one who would get the drinks… but he said he couldn’t drink while working and turned and pulled a pint of Birra Moretti and a Patrón chaser.
I paid, left a tip, took my drinks and sat away from the bar in the window but with my back to the wall so I could see the entrance as well as the steps outside.

So, two characters i observed, and then I “played” the part of one of them in my imagined meeting between them.

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