A letter to the woman in the restaurant

Dear woman in the restaurant,

We were the people you spent your meal staring at. Or was it glaring? I’m not sure. It was fixed and unwavering which ever it was. And it made the situation so much worse. I’m not going to apologise for LB’s behaviour. He was stressed from the start (getting stuck in the revolving doors on the way in probably didn’t help), but for the most part he managed to keep a lid on it. He muttered to himself a lot, and tensed his body regularly, but only a couple of times did he actually do anything that could have disturbed your meal. Two, possibly three, very brief shout-outs about his fear of Irish lorries being stolen.

As you were staring so hard, you may have noticed that the three of us, Rich, Tom and I, were all working hard to try to keep him calm. There was a lot of talk of the security arrangements at Irish lorry companies and attempts to distract him with a running commentary of the Oxford buses driving past the restaurant. A lot of remedial work, as Erving Goffman, would call it. To be honest, this work was largely try to stop LB experiencing such stress rather than concern about other diners.

I’ve sat in plenty of places and had to listen to other people’s conversations because they talked so loud, I’ve listened to people shouting on mobile phones, sat near parties of people being drunkenly cheerful and excessively noisy. These people don’t get stared at. These behaviours are tolerated.

I’m not sure what you were hoping to achieve with your staring. To let us know some social rules were being broken? To let us know that young people like LB are not welcome in public places? Or to demonstrate that your meal was ruined? The latter would be peculiar. You were sitting far enough away not to look at him, and, as I said, other than the quick shouts, he was pretty quiet.

It was my birthday lunch. I wanted LB to be there (obviously), and don’t think it is (or should be) a big ask for you to just get on with your meal and ignore the odd disruption. Anyway, we got the bill before we’d finished our main course. And left. Staring, or glaring, like that, can sometimes make a difficult situation unmanageable.

Maybe next time, you could just take a few seconds to try to imagine what it must be like to  experience that distress, or have to try to manage it. It ain’t rocket science, it’s that thing known as empathy.



Bonsai trees in the Marriott lobby

One thing led to another, this afternoon, in the Marriott Denver-Tech-Center hotel lobby.  A baking hot afternoon. A war between suburban hotel shuttle services. I was left waiting for about 45 minutes to get from the conference hotel (on the edge of a 12 lane motorway), to the hotel I was staying at (in the middle of nowhere). A hell hole industrial wasteland of nowhere. I ain’t joking.

I hung out in the lobby which was the size of a small football pitch. Chatting to the ‘bell/concierge’ person every now and again. She was working her socks off trying to negotiate ways out of the hotel for a constant stream of large and small groups of people who wanted to go somewhere.

I watched delegates from the Vision of the American West Bonsai Convention carefully wheel their trees away on luggage trollies, and vaguely regretted not spending more time at their exhibition. Various delegates from the disability conference I was attending, milled around, on foot, in chairs, on scooters, chatting, signing, discussing where to eat that evening. There was a lively, end of the day conference buzz. I met a delegate from Witney who had emailed me months ago. Funny old world and all that.

Three young men came through the revolving doors dressed in US naval uniform. They visibly responded, seeing a small group of conference delegates standing by the entrance. One of them stopped, momentarily and stared. He was given a brief hand squeeze on the shoulder by his colleague. There were the tiniest of half grins, a small cough, then faces were rearranged into studied disinterest.

All in the Marriott lobby. On a baking hot afternoon. That’s all.