Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Filling Quotas

Words are interesting. This should be common knowledge. Some people love to indulge themselves with long unknown phrases and decadent descriptions where every last detail is denoted. Others prefer to keep their sentences short and sweet. There could easily be a variety of different styles for a variety of different people. These variants could be based around knowing the dictionary back to back in many languages, or simply the complete knowledge of a succinct vocabulary.  Somebody once suggested to me that one of the reasons there is such a difference in how people use language is because we each have a different quota to fill. This is why some people are happy to be seen throwing around words with meanings that they will never truly grasp and understand; they have quotas to fill.
The other week, whilst walking my dog, I bumped into an old acquaintance. We have never really been friends just people that meet up by chance and talk. This is one of the benefits of owning a dog, you gain many acquaintances. As his dog ran past me I removed my headphones and said hello. It had been eight months since our last encounter but the changes in his face suggested it had been years. His hair had grown grey strands that could be seen flowing out of his head, mixing with the brown, as well as the occasional silver sitting above his lip in his moustache. The eyes were surrounded by crows’ feet, bags and wrinkles while the pupils were full of forethought and worry. Something was different about him; he had realised his mortality.
It was not long before he told me about his situation. Doctors had found a lump in his neck. Before cancer could enter my mind and escape through my lips he had already dismissed it. Instead this lump is something different, another growth that comes with a list of its own personal complications. The lump does not belong alongside the Adam’s apple where it was found and must be removed. This operation destroys the vocal chords and months of speech therapy must ensue if he is to ever utter a coherent sentence again. As I was about to release a quiet, shocked and measly ‘I’m sorry’ he tells me his speech therapy will take longer than usual because of his dyslexia. My useless apology for his condition is eventually freed from the back of my throat and graciously accepted.
As we walk the thought of this condition is something that goes through my mind while he is, naturally, taking his mind away from it. Having lived in the area all his life there are many stories and facts that he wants to share. It is like he knows about the concept of a word quota, and is desperate to reach his before the operation. We talk about everything. I am filled with information about the butts of the field, how underneath foliage there are metal tankers that were shelters during the Second World War, after 1945 they became a place where the military tested explosives. He would spend his childhood roaming the farmer’s field with a metal detector, one of the old cheap ones that specialises in the discovery of bottle caps and old half penny pieces. Except for those lucky days. On those lucky days he was able to find the old unexploded bombs that had been left by the military. As a child he saw them as toys something to be thrown around, testing them to see if they will go off; only to be woefully discarded at the end of the day before returning home. Pieces of childhood are being thrown at me and I am more than happy to try and catch the different segments and store them where they will not be forgotten.
As we approach a wheat field recently cleared of all its wheat, he takes me back much further then his childhood. As we stare at a path of flattened dirt that runs through the middle of the field, so thin and barely visible he begins to explain its origin. The path dates back to just after the Norman conquest of Britain, making it one of Britain’s oldest non-monuments. The path leads all the way along to the next village where there is a church that was built shortly after William the Bastard’s coronation. As the path was never made into an actual road most of it now is submerged underneath an A road. It is only through this little square of dirt that its remains can be seen. Suddenly my imagination takes hold of the situation and I can see groups of families all meeting up to take this micro-pilgrimage to church. It is winter and there is snow, I am not sure why but do not have time to think of a reason. The villagers have wrapped up warm as best they could, but supplies are limited, and they make their Sunday morning trudge to chapel. A little girl is holding her mothers hand she is cold, tired and worried about her mother’s health. Before my mind’s eye can develop this any further I am distracted by my companion, who is now half-guide half-raconteur. He is talking more about the history of the land and I do my best to take it all in though in hindsight I know some information has been forgotten. I catch his eyes while he talks to me about his gardening skills and they are no longer consumed with the cold fear that was in them. Instead they are relaxed and he is smiling.
At the end of the path, before we go our separate ways, there is at least an hour of standing and talking. We are both lost in conversation while our dogs sit bored and damp on the cold pavement. The conversation goes onto girls, his brother was always much better at getting good looking ones, even if they had the occasional marble missing or a drug habit that came with them free of purchase. The conversation then turns to more illicit substances. Since the discovery of his lump a world of opportunities have opened up, he no longer feels afraid to try new things. One of these has involved the consumption of Marijuana. Mary Jane. Bud. Weed. Skunk. Being a gardener he is not just interested in smoking the plant, although this has been included into his schedule. Instead he has knowledge of all the different strands, how to create the right climate for each different plant, how to tell from the smells, tastes and flavours. He is a connoisseur of the herb and that makes him happy. His enthusiasm is infectious.
After the conversation has moved onto the devious and egomaniacal schemes of the local Tory council I look down at my four legged companion. Her eyes look sad, but also incredibly pensive. She could be questioning why I have decided to stand in the rain talking for so long when I know full well that there is a sofa at home waiting to offer her comfort. I know that I am the only one who can make this conversation end.  As I say goodbye and walk away, I know that this is the last time we will meet and talk to one another. It has been fun, a deserving last encounter. On the way home I imagine him bumping into another one of his acquaintances, another one willing to stop and talk. They talk for just as long, letting him get closer to filling his quota.


  1. Wow. Just wow. That was crazy emotional and well written. Looking forward to more, hope your acquaintance ends up being all right.

  2. This is deep. You're a really great writer good job.

  3. I like this, following so we stay in touch