Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pavement Panto™

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.

19 comments:

Ben said...

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 admit when I was younger and I performed this Pantomime I was very conscious of it and believed that everyone was watching me. These days I am even quite proud of the slickness to which I must surely convince the world that I am in full control of where I am going.

Brit said...

Superb Pavement Pantomime, Ben!

I'm sure I've employed that one, too.

I'm going to look out for PP from now on to see just how prevalent it really is. It could be that Britons spend as much as 90% of their time doing nothing but phoney hamming and mugging for a disinterested audience.

monix said...

The handbag is a vital piece of Pavement Panto kit for those of us developing age-related forgetfulness. When I realise that I haven't a clue why I am walking down a particular road, I stop, open my handbag to perform a pretence of searching in vain for something and then head back to where I have obviously left it.

Now that you have revealed that everyone is performing similar pretences, walking down the street will take on a whole new and interesting dimension. I feel there is a musical comedy waiting to be written.

Brit said...

Ah, the old handbag routine, a crafty feminine gambit.

But here's a twist. How does one cope with the double u-turn? This is where you think you're going the wrong way, turn, and then it turns out you were going the right way after all.

That nightmare scenario requires a high degree of Pavement Panto skill. I would suggest that a way out of the second u-turn is an exaggerated devil-may-care shrug and look that says "Nah, I did have to go back that way for an important reason, but to hell with it, I'll damn well do as I please and go this way."

monix said...

What a relief to know that you youngsters have these little CRAFT moments too. No-one of my age would dare to admit to double u-turns but now I can claim to be simply performing a more complicated piece of Pavement Panto.

Brit said...

Of course, in the disastrous event of the triple u-turn, you'd be forced to feign a moral dilemma. I did say to hell with it, but on reflection perhaps I'd better go back that way after all.

This could go on indefinitely, back and forth, elevating Pavement Panto to Shakespearian levels of drama.

monix said...

I have it now - no-one is ever actually going anywhere.

Stephen Fawcus said...

When I'm at work I often pretend to have received a call or text on my mobile to avoid getting into a lift with someone I don't like the look of.
On the street I find bending down to tie a shoelace then getting up and moving in the opposite direction works well. I think I saw them doing something similar on Spooks.

malty said...

Phew, came over here for a quiet fag, a bit raucous over on TETB / Europe, a whole bunch of people with nothing to say but plenty to type.
How about the sudden halt, usually outside of lush causing the person behind to rear end one. Who apologies first?
Then there's the Big Issue seller dodgers, lots of material for shrinks there. A new syndrome is discovered, BISDexia.
Can I add the car park ? I swear this happened. Some time ago I received a frantic call from Frau Malty, in Tesco's car park 5 miles away, full shopping trolley in tow, cant get the car open, the bleeper won't work. Hurries over to Tesco's as I drive into the car park the first thing I see is the wife standing at a car, same make and colour as hers, different registration number. She had been standing there pointing the fob, passing strangers sympathising, offering advice unfortunately non included the sentence "is it the right car" It was, of course entirely my fault.

Brit said...

Ah the shoelace ruse, Stephen, the man's alternative to the handbag routine.

'G'Issue sellers, Malty - there's a whole world of Panto, worthy of a separate post. As is your priceless Tesco story, which puts me in mind of an amusing tale of my own. I will tell it forthwith.

Stephen Fawcus said...

I thought the accepted technique for dealing with Big Issue Sellers was to speed up as you walk past them, slightly shake of the head without making eye contact and, if you're very confident, a muttered "No thanks" under your breath?
Lush is one of the most gorgeous smelling emporiums known to man, I've often been spirited inside like a cartoon character following the scent of an apple pie.

David said...

I'm a fan of the "pretend I've arrived, wait until an entirely different group of people is on the sidewalk with me and then walk in the opposite direction" panto (if I understand what a "panto" is).

Peter Burnet said...

There is the faux-intellectual pavement patio routine inspired by Bertrand Russell. Just put an astounded "Eureka" look on your face and shout "My goodness, the ontological argument for the existence of God is right!", then turn around quickly and head briskly the other way as if you were rushing to tell important people the news.

It works for the double u-turn as well. If you've blown the first reversal, you can just stop and mutter loudly: "Oh damn, no it's not", turn around, and continue as before.

Brit said...

Possibly even the triple as well, Peter, with a bit of "No, hang on. It IS brilliant after all" mugging and a look of satisfied steady resolve. Requires some thespian expertise to pull that one off though.

Peter Burnet said...

Hmm, perhaps, but is that not getting too close to Monty Python or Daily Duck territory where the back and forths continue ad infinitum?

Hey Skipper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hey Skipper said...

I just turn around.

Which, it appears, makes me the freak.

Brit said...

You obviously don't have enough neuroses, Skipper. You might even be a potential serial killer.

Hey Skipper said...

True enough, I suppose. So long as it remains potential, I guess I (and everyone else) can live with it.