Inspired by the following Decamot items:
fireworks; evangelist; snooker; cutting edge; heather; safe haven; basket; grinder; apartment block; silk blouse
The apartment block evangelist had been causing a problem for the other residents of Cavendish Tower since he moved in six months earlier.
It wasn’t that Norman Avery was rude, surly, obnoxious or unpleasant to be with. He never came in late and loud, nor went out too early. He wasn’t unkind, mean, or inconsiderate, far from it.
The problem with Norman was that he liked to talk. Incessantly. About, … , well about pretty much anything; and with a passion. And so behind his back, he had been nicknamed the apartment block evangelist. Norman could evangelise on any topic.
If you mentioned stamp collecting, he would know the relative merits of owning a Penny Red instead or a Penny Black. If you expressed an interest in football, he would not only know which teams were doing well in each league in the UK, but would also have opinions on the relative merits of Lionel Messi over Cristiano Ronaldo. If he’d heard you listening to country music, he’d not only know the track, but could explain how the songwriter was influenced by bluegrass, American folk, or blues. When he spotted Penelope Rose (the headmistress from 3b) reading the latest Patricia Cornwell novel one afternoon, Norman surprised her by asking: “Aren’t you glad that she returned to writing Kay Scarpetta in the first person?”
No matter what interests or hobbies you engaged in, or TV programmes you’d watched recently, or book you’d just finished reading, Norman would not just know it, but would have an opinion about it and would be able to discuss it in minute detail, if given half a chance.
And that was the problem. The residents of Cavendish Tower were a very private bunch. They prided themselves in keeping themselves to themselves. The only reason they knew each other’s surnames was because they were printed on their mail boxes in the communal hallway. If they met each other in the communal sitting room, laundry room, or the lift, they may give a monosyllabic greeting, but more likely they would merely exchange mute nods of recognition. That’s the way Cavendish Tower had always been, and that’s the way they liked it. It was their safe haven from social interaction – there was enough of that in their workaday lives, they didn’t need more when they got home. They simply wanted a quiet domestic life without fireworks.
It was little short of a miracle that they’d actually managed to communicate with each other enough to arrange an emergency meeting, but something had to be done about Norman!
“He invited me to call him ‘Norm’. I mean really!”
“He offered me advice on the best setting for washing my silk blouse.”
“He thought I might like to hear his thoughts on the latest cutting edge technology.”
“I heard him suggest the other day that installing a snooker table in this room would be a fun idea!”
“We all know why we’re here, so let’s get on with it. How are we going to curtail these unwelcome intrusions into our private lives?”
Just as their discussion was getting underway, Norman was discovering that that week’s film at his film club had been cancelled. A note to that effect had been pinned to the door. Norman hung around for a few minutes on the off chance that a fellow member of the film club might turn up and they could go for a drink together. But no one did. Norman reasoned that the other club members must have been notified by text message, so he decided to go straight back to Cavendish Tower.
When Norman had moved into Cavendish Tower, he found the silence eerie. Their tower consisted of 6 floors of apartments with two apartments per floor. On the ground floor they had a laundry room, a large communal living room, and a large entry hall that housed the residents’ 12 mail boxes, and the elevator that serviced all floors. There were so many opportunities for his fellow residents to meet and greet each other. And yet they didn’t. There was the occasional nod of the head if two residents passed each other in the hall, or a perfunctory “Hi.” If one entered a communal area and discovered a neighbour already there.
So Norman had determined to bring some life into the place. He’d spent a lot of time thinking about how he might best attempt to get his neighbours talking to each other. He resolved to attempt to show an interest in all of their lives. If he found out that a resident had a hobby or interest, he would learn up about it so he could engage them in conversation if the opportunity arose.
As a consequence, he’d read up on rugby, history, politics and 1950s musicals (because they were liked by Lorna Wilson the dentist in 5b, Paul Cooper the computer game designer in 4a, Michael Katz the retired police chief in 6b, and Nigel Booth the actuary in 5a, respectively). He’d watched fantasy shows, American wrestling, and soap operas; (because they were enjoyed by Steve Whittaker the florist in 4b, Miss Adams the elderly spinster in 1a, and Heather Sims the bookshop owner in 3a, respectively); and he’d taken basket weaving classes, an alpine walking course, and now was spending each Wednesday evening at a film club (because they were pastimes engaged in by Mrs Davies the elderly widow in 1b, Sylvia Richards the senior civil servant in 2a, and Clive King the architect in 2b, respectively).
He hadn’t been particularly interested in any of these things in advance, he was just hoping that one day he’d be able to engage at least one of his fellow residents in an intelligent conversation about one of the their interests.
Over the past six months he’d found out that both Penelope Rose (the headmistress in 3b) and Michael Katz had a passion for origami; and that both Sylvia Richards and Paul Cooper danced a mean salsa; and both Clive King and Steve Whittaker had a discreet presence on Grinder.
If only they gave themselves a chance, Norman thought to himself as he headed home, they’d find out about these mutual interests and commonalities. They might even like each other!
All he could do was to keep trying to engage them socially, despite the constant rebuffs.
Meanwhile, back at Cavendish Tower the emergency meeting was coming to an end.
“Well that’s all settled then” said Mr Katz looking at his watch. “And just in time for Question Time.”
Then something unexpected happened.
“I like Question Time too,” said Penelope Rose. “It’s so much better than the standard news programmes. You actually get a proper balanced debate.”
“I don’t bother with the TV anymore,” said Sylvia Richards. “All channels are biased in my opinion. I just listen to Classic FM.”
“I like classical music, but not the adverts,” said Mrs Davies.
“Have you ever been to a classical concert?” asked Sylvia.
“Actually no. I’ve never known what to listen to.”
“I play in the Surrey Wind Orchestra” said Paul Cooper “I’ll get you tickets to our next concert if you’d to give it a try.”
“I thought I’d heard jazz coming from your apartment, not classical,” said Heather Sims.
“I play saxophone and it works equally well in either classical or jazz.”
“I love listening to jazz when I’m painting,” said Clive King.
“I’ve recently got into watercolours,” said Lorna Wilson. “But I like to have something light on the TV in the background. A sitcom perhaps or Strictly.”
“I like Strictly,” said Steve Whittaker. “In fact I like it so much I’ve started doing a ballroom dancing night class at the Technical College.”
“I thought they just did academic subjects there,” said Mr Katz.
“They do all sorts there,” said Paul Cooper. “I hold a war games class on Thursdays. ”
“War games?” asked Miss Adams.
“You know,” replied Paul Cooper. “On large boards with character pieces. It’s become very popular since the success of Game of Thrones.”
“I do like Game of Thrones,” said Miss Adams.
“Isn’t that a bit raunchy sometimes?” asked Heather Sims.
“That’s why I like it!”
“All that leather!” said Steve Whittaker “It’s almost as naughty as 50 Shades of Grey!”
“Surely not!” said Heather Sims. “I almost didn’t stock that book in Brought to Book. It’s sheer filth.
“Is that your bookshop?” asked Nigel Booth. “I didn’t realise. I like to browse there on a Sunday after Pilates. I’ve never seen you in there though.”
“I don’t work Sundays. Joan covers weekends.”
And so it went on. They were so engrossed that no one noticed when Norman arrived home. He let himself in and stopped abruptly when he heard voices emanating from the communal living room. For a few minutes he stood in the doorway. There were eight different conversations going on, many of them overlapping and some getting quite animated.
Norman closed the living room door quietly and returned to his apartment feeling very satisfied, his mission accomplished.