Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pavement Panto™ 2 - Deeper into the mime

I have to admit that the Pavement Panto discussion immediately below has had me chuckling throughout every waking hour since, and possibly some sleeping ones as well (sleeplaughter is one of my habits, it seems. I once shocked Mrs Brit awake with a loud guffaw and some unconscious mumbling about turtles).

The one that really got me was Ben’s U-Turn routine:

My favourite action when I need to perform a U-turn on the pavement, is to suddenly look at my watch, pretend to be surprised at how late it is, portray with a facial expression that I don't have time to do what I was 'going' to do and then smartly switch directions.

I find this very funny partly because I’ve employed that ruse myself, and partly because I think this must be Pavement Panto in its purest form.

It is Pavement Panto in its purest form for the following reasons:

1) It is such a laboured am-dram rigmarole, such absolute ham acting. In reality, it surely rarely or never happens that you suddenly decide to look at your watch, are shocked, shocked at the time – having been hitherto completely unaware of the hour - and have to completely revise your plans there and then.
2) It is played out to a completely imagined audience. That is, based on a vague notion that people are watching you and might laugh at you if they realised that you were just walking the wrong way for reasons of absent-mindedness.

In the second respect it contrasts with other, less pure forms of Pavement Panto, where there really is an audience and your acting is employed as an escape or masking mechanism. So we can subdivide Pavement Panto into two classes:

Pavement Panto™ (Primary Class) – indifferent or imagined audience
eg. U-Turn mimes, fake texting while dining out alone

Pavement Panto™ (Secondary Class) – audience-specific
eg. Big Issue Salesman/Chugger avoidance techniques; Stephen Fawcus’s pretend phone call to avoid sharing a lift.

It occurs to me that there could be a Tertiary Class, though, which involves situations where there is a definite audience, but you’re not sure about their degree of indifference.

Take bodily functions. An example mentioned on Adam and Joe was the farting chair. If you sit down in public and your chair makes an outlandish raspberry sound, it is customary to employ a bit of Pavement Panto shifting and squirming in an attempt to recreate the noise and thus 'prove' that it didn’t emit directly from your person the first time.

Likewise surreptitious staring. You might want to look at a person a little longer than would normally be considered polite (either because they are attractive and possibly semi-clothed, or conversely, interestingly ugly or deformed), in which case a good PP stratagem is the old ‘pretend to be a bit lost and looking for something’ ploy, allowing your gaze to sweep across the object several times.

And I haven’t even touched on small awkward shops, particularly quirky boutiques or remote second-hand bookshops, where a bewildering array of PP techniques is required to remove yourself from the store, under the hopeful gaze of the owner, without making a purchase (disappointed wallet-pocket patting, mumbling about ‘getting some cash’, asking if they ‘are open tomorrow’ etc).

I’m tempted to go into town on Saturday and position myself near a Big Issue seller just to take note of the variety of PP avoidance methods.

Yes, there’s plenty more mileage in this one, I’m afraid.

14 comments:

jonathan law said...

An important example of Tertiary Class Pavement Panto has to be behaviour in the cash-point queue, as here (a) you are almost guaranteed some kind of an audience and (b) the issues go beyond your general idiocy to questions of personal solvency and/or probity. On the machine's refusal to issue money at the first attempt (e.g. because you have keyed in the office entry code) it is necessary to go into a complicated piece of mugging making it clear to those behind you that, despite appearances, you are neither a bankrupt nor a crook. This is a tricky one to pull off well, because it has to express not only incomprehension and annoyance but also a serene confidence that everything will be just fine in a minute. (A verbal translation would go something like: "God! Modern technology, eh! Would you believe there’s over£500,000 in there!") Probably, you are feeling all these things, but the effort of showing that you feel them makes you feel slightly fake, and then you worry that the fake feeling is showing in your performance, as indeed is the worry. This, of course, can only get worse at the second and third attempts, and immeasurably worse if the machine should ingest your card. Here the only expression possible is one of Buddhist detachment, unmixed with either alarm or guilt.

Stephen Fawcus said...

Being next in line to the cashpoint can be quite a social minefield. If the person is having difficult and communicates this to you in pavement panto form is it good form to look at the cashpoint's screen, as if you might be able to help them or should you just tut and look skywards while ruefully shaking your head and smiling slightly, to show solidarity with man in his battle against unhelpful technology?

Brit said...

Oh I don't think you should ever look at another person's cashpoint screen Stephen, even your spouse or partner's, unless specifically requested.

Jonathan:

Yes, a sort of "Ah excellent, precisely as planned the machine has swallowed my card."

A great deal of PP is about pretending that one is incapable of making cock-ups. It's a sad thing, but there it is.

Nige said...

I find a useful gesture in any circumstances is the Homer Simpson-style brow-smite, with or without audible D'Oh! - if done with sufficient conviction it can convey that your entire life so far has been based on a total misunderstanding and you're just going to have to start again from scratch - the U-turn is the least of it. Plus you'll look slightly mad, which helps scare off various kinds of pavement nuisances.

Brit said...

I suspect that a flamboyant self- headslap would be the only route out of the Shakespearian tragedy of the multiple U-turn disaster.

Nige said...

except you might end up concussed...

Brit said...

...or poke your own eye out. Better stop there, this is turning into Mr Bean.

Stephen Fawcus said...

"Oh I don't think you should ever look at another person's cashpoint screen Stephen, even your spouse or partner's, unless specifically requested."

I know, but I always get the urge to peek at the screen if someone is clearly having difficulty.

I wonder if many of the street nutters we've all witnessed ranting and wandering aimlessly are merely people who've lost all sense of direction and have taken pavement panto to a much higher level of perfection?

martpol said...

Every so often while walking down a perfectly familiar street, I suddenly - seemingly at random - have a feeling of intense self-consciousness. I am suddenly unsure HOW to pass people going the other way.

What do I do usually, I ask myself. Do I look into the eyes of the people who are passing, or do I look straight past them without even acknowledging their existence except to avoid bumping into them?

So, I do a sort of half-way house. I look straight ahead, with a kind of half sideways glance to the other person at a distance of perhaps six feet. I catch their eye momentarily, as if to say: "Oh yes. I'm a confident, street-tough kind of person who isn't afraid of human contact, but - importantly - I am NOT a freak who wishes to invade your personal space."

If this action is performed too soon, it may require the use of a secondary tactic borrowed from Surreptitious Staring, i.e. the sweeping gaze which says, "Oh no, I wasn't intending to look specifically at YOU."

But here's where it all gets rather silly (or more silly). Sometimes, when this particular piece of self-consciousness occurs, the person at whom I attempt to look casually is from a different ethnic group. On these occasions, not only do I worry that I am staring unduly, but I also fret that they will think I'm a racist. "He'll assume I'm staring at him because he's black," I think. "But not only am I a pretty street-smart kind of guy, who is not a freak, I am also a modern cosmopolitan kind of guy who is NOT A RACIST."

So, I need to add yet another additional tactic: using the short time I have before he passes me, I must stare at someone else too, so that he knows I am providing for equal opportunities in my unusual behaviour. "Even if he thinks I'm a nutter", I think, "I'd prefer that to being thought a racist."

Of course, if the second person you glance happens to be in a wheelchair, the whole package of insecurities and social anxieties would just become too much. Not many people can have attempted the Triple Glance Prejudice Avoidance Technique and lived to tell the tale.

Brit said...

Magnificently, heroically neurotic, Martpol. A sort of Gervaisian prejudice-paranoia.

It is a wonder we can make it through the day without total mental meltdown.

malty said...

The one, some say only thing that a lifetime at the bag marked swag face of business taught me was how to psych 'em out. Without this attribute you are toast.
This comes in many guises and can effectively be applied as the day progresses.
If confronted by whatever, up here in the land of the tartan downtrodden it may well be "here you, are you staring at my burd" The default response is the number 6, Al Pachino like one's head inclides towards and slightly to one side of the targets head, staring past their left ear, speak in a menacing whisper "it's business, that's all, business"
Then there is the number 22B, the stare, works every time, slightly puzzled frown, stare, say nothing, half turn, slight shoulder shrug, has 'em in tatters.
The above is at its most effective with employees begging for more money, "starving kids, wife ran off, bailiff coming round" routine.

Mike Nelson said...

I've used a variation of the classic "what the hell WAS that that just tripped me?!" technique twice. Once while running around the beautiful lakes of Minneapolis, gazing at a young lovely, I tripped on an emerging tree root and flung myself to the ground with Herculean force, blooding my elbow and hurting my knee very, very badly. The subtle variation I used was to scream, "Holy S**T! Ow! Oh, my GOD!"

I used it again when I was biking around the very same lake 10 years later at high speed when my tire exploded. But this time it was in response to a woman who, immediately after I slid to stop, said to the bloody heap that used to be my body, "You should watch your speed, young man."

Brit said...

Oh now that's great advice, isn't it? Telling you to be careful after you've smashed your body to bits. Or is it more like "I told you so" but without the bit where she told you in the first place.

There's a whole new topic in there.

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