Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Ever wondered how observant you are?

In the toilets of a café, a few things caught my eye: Firstly there was no mirror. Clearly it is easy to be observant and notice the things that are lacking.  I found it hard to imagine, why after all this time, they hadn't put a mirror up.

Plus they had displayed an array of laminated notices; some were typed, others handwritten. Nonetheless, somebody else has clearly felt the satisfaction of repeatedly laminating things.

"Please put paper towels in the bin" said one handwritten laminated notice. "Please turn off the taps when you have finished" ordered the other. As I was drying my hands, I pondered the relevance of such notices. You would have thought it is common sense, not to litter the place, after all a bin is visible. Plus the taps were easy taps, not the sort that you have seen left running because you cannot turn them off.

I was trying to imagine a situation where somebody thought it was a good idea to put their used paper towels in the sink and leave the taps running, to flood the place. Had that ever happened? Was there a bad experience along these lines, not long after opening, where water was dripping through the ceiling, onto customers? Clearly I didn't ask, in case they thought I was the sort of person to do these things.

The other laminated notice said "Please inform a member of staff if the toilets require attention." I figured as there was space in the bin for my towels, as the taps still worked and as nobody flooded the place through ignoring all signs. There was no need to mention anything and I was clearly somebody observant enough to follow their instructions.

There was a retired man, who approached my table and asked if he could help himself to some sugar. Such an inconsequential interaction: a quick greeting and leaving with two sachets of white sugar. But the thing that surprised me was that he then walked out of the door. I think the lady behind the counter wondered why I looked at her. Was he a white sugar thief? Was the sugar for his supply at home because he ran out? Clearly I wasn't observant enough to remember if he was the same man who sat outside at one of the tables. After all in January, I didn't expect the outside tables to be popular.

It just goes to show, that when faced with a man walking out of the shop with 2 white sugar sachets and another member of the public, walking past the door at the same time: It's easy to be unsure of the intentions of either person, and it goes to show how easily your mind goes blank and you are unsure which person you had just spoken to. It makes me wonder that if it's hard to remember such minutiae and remember people's characteristics, what on earth we would be like if there was a crime. If indeed, I was too engrossed in my book, to be a witness for the great white sugar thief.

Clearly he wasn't a white sugar thief and he had his drink brought outside to him. It does make you think: that we are all caught up in our everyday activities, talking to who you are with, reading your book or a paper. Would you really notice something bad happening, would you really remember what somebody looked like a moment later if you had to? Clearly my mind was more occupied with the notices in the bathroom and the book I was reading, than what this man was doing. So it was a good job he only wanted sugar for a drink he paid for, to drink outside. It was a good job that any peril was only imagined on my part, as I was very relaxed in my own world, reading my book. A good entertaining book it was, and I read a quarter of the book sat in the café.

I do find it interesting how your mind can either be put at ease, or wander, as soon as a stranger says something. People on a nearby table "What time is it?" "It's twenty-to" came the reply. Clearly my mind focusses on such chat and my curiosity of the time of day, is fulfilled, even though I wasn't wondering what time it was, just before I heard the time being mentioned.

Plus I was surprised when a customer wanted roast turkey sandwich and they didn't have that filling. I wondered who on earth lacks turkey over Christmas, that they feel the need to order a turkey sandwich the first week of Januray. Perhaps they hadn't eaten a turkey sandwitch, or perhaps they loved turkey so much, they had to eat more, once their own turkey was used up.


  1. Interesting post.
    It's like the tests where they showed a clip and then asks a series of questions of what was observed.

  2. Hi Lisa! Thanks for the reply!

    I have seen programmes about that sort of thing in the past. I think I would be hopeless and pick out totally the wrong person or whatever ha-ha.

  3. I'm afraid I'm totally unobservant. I tend to get engrossed in what I'm doing or thinking about. It's often noted by my family. I do wonder what I'm missing - but then I think I would be missing out on something if I didn't get lost in thought quite so often - can't have it both ways.

    After volunteering at cafe unity for a couple of years I'm used to a bit of weird behaviour in cafes. You'd be surprised what people get up to!

  4. Getting engrossed in what I was doing was certainly what was going on in my story. I have Danny Wallace to blame for that.

    The thing is, you either walk around totally alert, which is a stressful and tiring way to live, or you are more chilled out and focussed on the task in hand and are very observant about what is important to you and not other things.

    I hope I am not classed as somebody who gets up to odd behaviour in cafes ha-ha.