IN THEIR OWN LITTLE BOXES … WHY DO PEOPLE NEVER SEE THEMSELVES AS OTHERS DO 

Sitting on the bus in the bus station the other day, my attention was drawn to the couple behind me. They were chatting away to one another. Pointing out a woman with 'so many' children; concerned for the moral welfare of the girl wearing a low-cut top; and marking out the lad with his earphones in place as 'one of them'. They were also bemoaning the fact that 'no-one wears hats anymore' and that the one girl who did  – a really pretty Nordic-style hat-with-ears as it happened – was wearing 'ugh, one of those'. 

It was just the usual sort of 'entertainment' witnessed by the regular commuter. I'm sure you've heard it yourself. Just as I was counting myself lucky that they had yet to move on to the subject of  'other people's operations', a girl, probably in her early twenties, climbed aboard. She swiped her travel card, gave the driver a friendly grin and settled down on the back seat. As she sat, she continued a mobile phone conversation that had clearly been suspended while she boarded. She chatted happily away.

Almost immediately they started – the couple behind, that is . 

"It can never wait, can it?" 

"I know. Drives me mad."

"Do you think that one day we'll have a generation of young people in rehab for texting?"

"I should think they're already mad with all that talking"

Granted, the girl's conversation might have been just a little distracting. Had she not been sitting at the back of the bus, several rows away from anyone else. Had she not been talking so quietly to be barely audible. What was, of course, far more of a distraction was the constant commentary of the couple behind. And they were making no effort to speak quietly. In fact they were booming. Unnecessarily, because they were sitting no more than six inches apart.

To be fair to them, they did intersperse their diatribe with other topics of conversation. Their neighbour at the back and his 'rather ugly' conservatory. Arlene from church who was making a fool of herself over the new curate. And their 'friend' Brian and his hapless love life. It did occur to me that they might have introduced Brian to Arlene, and killed two birds with one stone, but they didn't strike me as the type of couple to take positive action. At least not when mocking was an option. But, before long, they were back to their primary target. By this point she had ended her first call, but soon her phone rang "oh I hate those ringtones" and she provided them with more ammunition. 

The girl chuckled: "I expect she'll have to phone all her other friends with that joke". 

The girl said goodbye: "Oh thank God for that!" 

The girl's phone rang again. "Oh my God  – we'll not get any peace today"

And then came the classic: "Why do they think everyone wants to hear their conversation?"

Hmm. Indeed. Why would someone think that? "Why would you think that?", I asked them - in my imagination, of course. I was 'this' close to turning around and pointing out the irony, but I had a feeling that it might be lost on them. Besides which, I always think you should probably avoid giving people a piece of your mind if you can scarcely afford to lose that piece in the first place. 

I wanted to tell them that, since she had been chatting so quietly, the girl was no more distracting than anyone else talking to the person next to them. And that she was much less so than some of those that were. I wanted to say that I didn't like having to listen to other people's conversations either. That, while they had been complaining about a single girl chatting away quietly in the corner, I'd had to endure two of them, gossiping and moaning loudly, right behind me, and that this made my plight at least twice as bad as theirs. I didn't, of course. Sometimes life's just too short. And my Dad always reckons there's no point arguing with an idiot, because he'll always beat you with experience. 

As we arrived at our destination, everyone filed carefully off the bus. The young girl, paused beside the couple. Smiled, indicated for them to go first. I wondered whether she had heard their constant bitching. They were certainly loud enough. But she looked so serene that I doubted it. The couple were rather taken aback and seemed not to know what to do. I know, most of us would have thanked her, but they seemed stunned into silence. Perhaps it was the unexpected thoughtfulness of someone they had written off as a drain on society. Who knows? In the end, they just shuffled off, without saying a word. I indicated to the girl to go ahead of me and she rewarded me with a smile and a nod of the head that made me wonder. Perhaps she was adopting one of my preferred tactics when under the cosh from aggravating people – be relentlessly polite, patient and cheerful. It kills 'em every time.