Ageing scallywags Adam and Joe had an amusing feature on their radio show the other day about a peculiar area of human activity. They didn’t settle on a name for it so I will coin the term Pavement Panto™.
Pavement Panto refers to those contrived actions one performs to mask, disguise or somehow ‘cover for’ any public behaviour about which one feels awkward or obscurely embarrassed.
An example mentioned on the show involves the business of making a 180 degree turn in the street. Sometimes when walking it becomes necessary to stop, turn, and walk back the other way. This might be because you have walked past the shop you meant to go into, or you’d forgotten where you parked the car. In extreme cases of absent-mindedness you might even have strolled dozily past your own front door.
Now for some reason it’s hard to perform this U-turn without covering it with some sort of Pavement Panto. One might, for example, stop and pretend to look with interest at a shop window for a few moments, and then, when a reasonable time has elapsed, walk back the other way as if the original direction of the walk and the stop were all part of your plan.
An alternative technique (and one which I favour) for the U-Turn scenario is to go to the other extreme and over-exaggerate the realisation that you’ve gone the wrong way. I will frequently raise my right arm with forefinger extended in an A-ha! sort of gesture, waggle my wrist as if remembering something vital and then about-turn with military smartness, shaking my head and tut-tutting at my own forgetfulness. For whose benefit I perform this unnatural and hammy routine I cannot say. But somehow it is necessary to deflate the perceived embarrassment of erring by drawing attention to the error. Very odd.
One Adam and Joe listener described how he will carry on walking even after realising that he is going the wrong way, but then pull out his mobile phone and pretend that he’s received a text message. He will then feign surprise and annoyance, indicating that the message commands him to go back from whence he came. This is expert Pavement Panto, but surely much too elaborate to be rational.
The prevalance of Pavement Panto raises many interesting questions about social paranoia and self-consciousness. Why do we feel this need to cover our petty and extremely common mistakes? Are we worried that onlookers will laugh at us? Ha ha, look at that idiot, changing direction! Oi, changey-direction idiot, you’re an idiot!
The rise of the mobile phone has surely done wonders for the phenomenon, being the perfect Pavement Panto prop. Pretending to answer text messages is an ideal way to mug through such self-conscious experiences as dining out alone or waiting for your wife outside the underwear fitting rooms in Marks and Spencer.
Pavement Panto can even take place in the car. In traffic jams I have sometimes been laughing heartily at the radio or singing away lustily to a CD when I’ve glimpsed another driver looking at me. My Pavement Panto reflex will immediately kick in and I have been known to fake an amusing hands-free telephone conversation, even to the extent of mouthing ‘Goodbye’ and pressing an imaginary hang-up button.
This is clearly nuts. But then, we are nuts, aren’t we? Until I heard that radio show it had never really occurred to me that everyone else might have these same little lunacies. Now I suspect that Pavement Panto makes up a huge proportion of the human activity you see every day. What a piece of work is a man.