Maidenhead, of all places, bustles with activity on this mild and temperate, albeit overcast (no surprise there), English spring Saturday.
Sipping on a flat white I find myself scanning passers-by, fascinated by people’s mannerisms, movements and the way in which they interact.
Locating someone with a smile amongst the clusters is as unlikely as catching a glimpse of a tiger in the Indian mangroves, more rare than an alcoholic passing on a free drink.
A busker, immersed in his own world, strums his guitar with consummate ease while a middle-aged man, devouring a Greggs pastry like he hasn’t eaten in weeks, pushes a stroller presumably containing his child down the high street. I emphasise presumably because a bulk-size package of Andrex toilet paper is sat on the infant’s lap, impeding both of our views.
Reading, writing and people watching go together like a Tour de France rider and doping. The trifecta has become a staple of my existence, a pillar of comfort and inspiration.
People watching, however, can be perceived by others as a creepy, even off-putting, activity. It must be conducted with decorum and style, ensuring you don’t stare or lock onto any one subject. There is, oddly enough, an art to seamless and non-invasive people watching. You can always revert your attention back to an intriguing gathering, an uncomfortable moment shared by a couple or a nearby conversation you can’t help but listen in on.
Just be aware: don’t dare stare.
I, a self-proclaimed seasoned and well-versed people watcher (not in a creepy way), have just been caught staring too long, and have myself, been people watched.
Locking eyes with a distinguished elderly man with radical, and surprisingly stylish spectacles, I have just experienced first-hand the awkwardness of poorly executed, and, admittedly, creepy people watching. Although fleeting in real-time, the moment seemed to go on forever. Our eyes were entangled, and entrenched in a showdown resembling a shootout in the Wild, Wild West. Finally, I attempted to look away in a casual, discrete way. But I have a feeling it was anything but.
The people watcher has well and truly himself been people watched.
In one form or another I believe, as the curious beings humans are, everyone people watches, whether they know it or not. So here are five different types of people watchers:
The constant scanner: A people watcher with constantly moving eyes, never locking in on a subject for too long (obviously an accomplished veteran in the field).
The in-denial people watcher: Those who are disassociated completely from it, denying they ever engage in the age-old pastime.
The creepy people watcher: And you know who you are. Those who lock their gaze on unknowing subjects and stare almost always alienate and repel every person in their crosshairs. Often creepy watchers try to disguise their affliction by wearing sunglasses.
The anxious, nervy people watcher: Those who, when caught people watching, immediately look down or pretend to be doing something else.
The attention-seeking people watcher: This type of people watcher feeds on eye contact, hoping to get a response that will eventually lead to a conversation.