Oct 21, 2013


On Saturday my husband had a rare day home from work and one of A's friends was coming for a playdate at 11. I had almost nothing left in the fridge and pantry. All these things meant I got to duck out for a supermarket trip early in the morning.

It was beautiful weather - sunny and warm with a light breeze and the feeling that summer was around the corner. After I did the shopping I sat at a cafe for a quick breakfast treat.  (The treat being 'alone time').

At the table next to me was a retired-age couple enjoying tea and toast; a little black dog was on the chair between them; it had a red ribbon in its hair.

The man was wearing a golf shirt and flat cap. The woman wore the kind of ribbed cotton slacks my grandmother used to, and an ironed cotton shirt in a bright colour I can't remember. In the way of women her age, she wore jewellery and makeup and neatly styled hair, as she would any day she left the house, be it for an appointment somewhere or a drive to the shops.

(I wonder, is that generational or an age thing? When I'm sixty will I suddenly start ironing my shirts and styling my hair, or will half the women my age be getting around in jersey jackets, stretchy tops and shoulder-length hair like we do now? Anyway...)

To be honest, when I first sat down I hardly noticed them at all. I didn't even notice the dog until later. If I thought anything at all when I saw them it was Standard issue retired middle-middle-class couple from the suburbs. Kids have moved out, house is paid off, modest savings, etc. A careful, responsible life and a simple, comfortable retirement. Isn't that nice.

But you shouldn't make assumptions about people's lives, should you?

Because their conversation was quite unexpected.

I wasn't listening at first, but then the woman was talking into her phone. Quite loudly.

"No, we can't. I'm taking Steve to the doctor, his blood pressure's way up, and that's stress. We're on our way to the doctor now. So you and Bill are going to have to work today, because we can't."

The man said something after the call.

"No way," the woman said. "I'm not, and you're not either. My legs were killing me all last night, I couldn't sleep. And you're no good today. They said I had to, and I said nup. There's only one thing I have to do, and that's die. And I'm not dying!"

She continued: "I mean, fifty dollars an hour is good money, but it's not worth it. Not worth it. We're not doing it anymore."

By this stage I'd finished my toast and coffee and had to get back home. I didn't want to look like I was sitting there listening (but I was). So I left.

But I was so curious. What kind of work were they doing? Something that required work on weekdays and Saturdays, paid well, was stressful, and was hard on the legs? Neither of them looked fit, and they were both well past the age of doing demanding physical work anyway, so "no" to my immediate fanciful thoughts of fruit picking and waiting tables (also last I recall neither of those pays $50 per hour). Something skilled, or something they were qualified to do - hence the $50 per hour, and the person on the phone wanting their presence? Something that they didn't run themselves (not their own business), but something they could seemingly pick up and leave at will, to some extent. Something where they seemed to work in a small group (Bill and the other person).

Manning a shop or business front? Not at $50 an hour.

Super spies? Not enough money.

Teachers? ("stress"). Not on Saturdays.

Shop inventory? A couple in their sixties?

What then? What? I'm so curious - what could it be?!


  1. Dog washing? It makes me burn with shame to admit it but I love eavesdropping on other people's conversations. I simply can not mind my own business.

    1. Ooh yes, dog washing. It makes perfect sense now!! :)
      I find as I get older I eavesdrop a little more than I used to. Not sure what that says about me!

  2. It beats reality TV. I would have stuck around anyway.

    1. My husband was appalled that I didn't, and even more appalled that I didn't ask them what job it was, so we could cover their shift!

  3. If you ever find out let me know...I could use $50 an hour, although, it sounds like it involves a lot of standing or walking so...maybe not.

    1. Yeah that was my reaction too. I am curious though!

  4. I am a chronic eavesdropper. I would have stayed. And yes, I am also wondering just what would have paid $50 an hour. I like her attitude though.

    1. Yes, she probably made the right decision. Whatever it was.

  5. Intriguing. I remember seeing a neighbour on a tram, who I know rather a lot about. As I observed her unseen, I wondered could anyone else on the tram in the wildest dreams guess anything vaguely accurate about this woman. I concluded they couldn't.

    Moo, my grandmother to her sister about their youngest sister: Did you see Lal? She was wearing slacks!
    Marge: No Moo, surely not. Not in public.
    Moo: Yes, she wore them shopping. We saw her looking in the window of the fishmongers in Oakleigh.
    I saw Auntie Lal some time later in her slacks. They were chocolate brown with those horizontal bands as you describe, and made from one of the worst fabrics ever invented, crimplene.

    1. Yes! Those are the ones! And they always have to be called "slacks".

  6. $50 an hour? For sure they weren't check out operators then.
    My mum would have put on lipstick and a nice jacket to go out, but not me. I'm 61 now and go out in whatever I happen to have on and I don't think I even own a lipstick. It's a generational thing.

    1. Whew - I won't be ironing in the future then either



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