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sports shoe; one who moves about stealthily; one who acts furtively
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Newsletter January 27 - 2011FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

Don''t worry about the meaning of the word I''ve used as the title of this piece. I''ll come to that in a minute. Let me start with telling you about the time when I was a long distance commuter.  Now, I''ll explain what that word means straightaway. That''s what we call someone who travels back and forth to work each day often by public transport. I ''commuted'' by train on a daily basis from a town on the south coast of England to London. This used to take about one and quarter hours. As you can imagine, this gave you time to settle down, go to sleep, read a book or just daydream. The one thing you noticed was an absence of chatter – people just didn''t talk to each other. The only time you were addressed (spoken to) was when you accidentally sat in a seat that was sort of reserved for one of the regular commuters who got on at a later stop. Little was actually said because it was more of a facial expression – a look of disgust (great displeasure) because you had had the audacity (bravery) to try to sit where Mr/Mrs *** always sat.

This went on for the best part of a year and I don''t believe I even got a sign of recognition from any of the regular commuters although they were faces that I had sat next to, opposite and near to every day. Then one hot summer afternoon on my way back to the seaside, it happened. A man dressed very conventionally carrying a briefcase and of course a neatly furled (rolled up) umbrella although it hadn''t rained for days and as far as I remember didn''t rain for another three weeks, stepped into  the compartment and said to me or rather shouted at me as the sole (only) occupant these words: What''s the score? Here again I have to explain that this was the season when important cricket matches were taking place between Britain and Australia. I have no intention of explaining cricket for the simple reason that I just don''t understand it! Anyhow this city gent (gentleman) wanted to know the result of the latest cricket match and my reply was: I haven''t a clue (I have no idea).This remark was all too much for him. He threw his head back in disgust, marched out of the compartment and got into another one further down the train.

As promised I''ll now explain the word in the title – conversing.  Well, you probably know the word already because it means ''talking'' or making conversation. And there are so many different types of conversation but you have to remember that in the UK it isn''t a pastime (hobby) practised between adults very much. We keep ourselves to ourselves and it is only in particular circumstances as I described at the beginning that strangers talk to each other.

An average group of people standing at a bus stop will not converse willingly. They''ll be wrapped up in their own thoughts but should an incident happen like for example a car driver driving at breakneck speed (extremely fast) past them with squealing brakes, then the floodgates of conversation will open up. People will start using words and expressions like ''crazy'' ''mad'' ''disgusting'' ''shouldn''t be allowed'' ''likely to kill someone''  ''ought to be put inside''.

That last comment suggests that the driver should be put in prison. Then these bus stop individuals will lapse (fall back) into silence. That will be the end of what you''d call small talk until the bus finally arrives. Then of course there''s what is called polite conversation where you are trapped in a room unable to escape and there''s another person there. Well, you can''t really ignore them, can you? I remember this happened to me once. I was invited to some meeting and got there too early as is my habit because I can''t bear being late. Unfortunately someone else had got there too early as well and I am not used to making polite conversation with people like him. He was a bishop you see in the Anglican Church and he was wearing the sort of attire (clothes) that all bishops wear.

Well, I could hardly start talking about that, could I? From what I remember we talked of the weather and avoided all religious topics, thank god! Forgive me bishop!  Fortunately after struggling for twenty minutes analysing all meteorological matters, another guest arrived – another bishop. Just, as we say, what the doctor ordered (exactly what was needed). Then of course there is what you might call the non-conversation where one of the interlocutors (speakers) becomes tongue tied (can''t speak) because they are nervous or shy. Boy meets girl and wants to tell the girl that he thinks she''s the most wonderful creature he''s ever seen.  He wants to invite her out somewhere, he wants to get to know her better, he wants to arrange a date but being the taciturn (unwilling to talk) type of person, he just stands there and stammers. The girl then walks away and what could have been the romance of the decade never becomes a reality.

And then we have to remember those who can''t stop talking and conversing and I''m in danger of being one of them. But I have to say I have enjoyed talking to you and I hope the feeling is mutual.

Alan Townend

PS  I think it would be a good idea if we could continue this conversation on the forum. If you have ever experienced difficult or unusual conversations with people or you simply want to talk, you could post your comments on the forum. That way I could have a conversation with you and you could have a conversation with each other. Why not try? I look forward to conversing with you further. Please post your comments and questions here: How good are you at making conversation?

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