I was at a huuuuge Departmental conference on Thursday, where I took the opportunity to chat to as many of my colleagues as possible. I work in a fairly small team, and it is easy to end up only interacting with the people who you deal with professionally, or who happen to sit near you.
Mind you, the alternative would be to wander the building tapping strangers on the shoulder and demanding that you both spend some time getting to know each other. I can't imagine too many office environments condoning that kind of behaviour. And I am fairly certain I wouldn't want to work in one that did. Ew. Touchy feely. Ewwwww.
Anyway. I was chatting with a group of people as we all sat around a table doing some brainstorming, or transactional analysis, or neuro linguistic programming, or possibly blue sky thinking. I wasn't paying attention at the start of the exercise, a habit which has got me into trouble at work on many occasions in my long and chequered career. I just nodded wisely, and said we should run stuff up the flagpole to see who saluted it, and that seemed to get me off the hook when they asked me a question.
We finished whatever it was we were doing, went to get a cup of tea, and then chatted for a few minutes. We did that "Where do you live? Gosh, that's a long/tiresome/awkward journey" thing, which I like, because I ALWAYS win. My commute is easily the stupidest. Yay me. People look at me as if I'm mad, and say "Three hours? In total?" and I say "No, three hours each way." And then I sigh a little and look noble, and as if it is something that only the truly dedicated would ever undertake. But inside I am going "I WIN! Hurrah! It's a stupid, pointless contest that nobody else even knows they have entered, but that doesn't matter, because I WIN!"
I don't get out much.
The conversation then turned to that old chestnut "So what's it like, living in the country?" I am always tempted to tell them we have to do our washing on rocks in the river, cut down trees with bone implements for fire, and trap all our own food, wearing the resultant skins for warmth in our fusty, dank, smoky turf-roofed hovels.
I usually manage to resist that. Usually.
I did impress them with the news that we are neither on mains gas or mains drainage, and that we have satellite dishes because of the crap TV reception round here. And that we have next to no public transport. "What if you need to go out?" they asked. "Do you get a taxi, or use the bus?" I explained that to get a taxi entails summoning one from town, so it's only really worth doing if there's a gang of us and we book a minibus. I think we have three buses a day, but I'm not sure. The only one I ever see is the school one in the mornings sometimes.
"You do have electricity, though?" asked one of the ladies, looking horrified at the thought of a home with no access to cable television or a decent mobile phone signal.
"Yes, except when there's a power cut. We get them quite often in the winter," I said, only exaggerating a bit. "But we have lots of candles and an open fire so we can keep warm."
She looked at the tablecloth in silence, then back at me, trying to equate the normally-groomed, non-pelt-wearing person in front of her with the shocking image of deprivation she now had in her head. After a bit she shook her head in wonderment. "I just can't imagine why anyone would want to live like that," she said.