The Backpack Stack

The beginner’s guide to effortless socialising

Continued from last week. (http://flipside.thebubble.org.uk/issue36/a-simple-hello)

Other people are overrated

I soon realised that simply resolving to never acknowledge anyone ever again was an ill-advised course of social interaction. One might assume that such an epiphany would be most likely to strike during a moment of loneliness, spurred on by being faced with some blatant display of so-called ‘friendship’. Perhaps seeing two ‘friends’ laughing heartily together in the pub, or maybe glimpsing, through windows wet with condensation, a merry looking dinner party in full swing. But no, my attempt to ignore all social engagement was abandoned for a wholly different reason.

It was during my third day of attempted social blackout, as I ploughed recklessly through a hapless gaggle of wide-eyed tourists that this realization came about. Approaching the fact-hungry mob I heard the tour-guide exclaim, in an Attenborough like faux-whisper ‘here comes a student now!’ Unfortunately for me the tour in question was not one of bored, perpetually uninterested youths who couldn’t care less that a student was fast approaching. This tour was composed mainly of middle-aged, sock-sandal wearing specimens who possessed the strange ability to cultivate an intense interest in absolutely anything. You’d think by the way they reacted to the tour guide’s exclamation that she’d just pointed a rare species of gorilla. All eyes turned to face me, I heard a few cameras click and one of the shorter ones at the front (who was rocking ‘the double hiking pole’ look) let out unnerving shriek of excitement.

Now at this stage, had I any vague sense of normal human conduct, I would have simply bellowed an assertive ‘Excuse me’; then like a modern day Moses parting a forest of cameras and anoraks I could march through unheeded. However, sticking to my resolve I decided attempting any sort of direct interaction would probably end in tears, or at the very least an acutely awkward situation (the link at the top of the page will clarify). Hoping that they would just sense my determined route and move apart, I approached the group quickly. My jaw clenched and the cold sweats of impending human contact spread icily over my body.

I did not slow my pace. If anything I speeded up a little: dropping my head as I neared the impact zone. The waterproof clad brigade did begin to separate; a discernible path started to form. Then, as I reached the midway mark one of them decided they wanted a close-up photo. In attempting said photo the gaunt, beady eyed man in question thrust his camera alarmingly towards my face. In attempting to dodge this photographic missile I barged into a man with an unfeasibly large rucksack (more Bear Grylls than ‘walking tour of Durham’). Thinking I had avoided a situation I was spurred on by another burst of nervous energy. But as the final few people shuffled apart and the light at the end of the tour group began to emerge I felt a strong, unyielding tug drag me to halt. Next thing I knew I was being forcefully thrust forward again. Well, not so much forward as down, towards the hard, unforgiving pavement. Not understanding what exactly had happened I had just enough time to emit a pathetic and resounding squeal before the ground came up to meet me with a crash.

Once again, the dim mists of unconsciousness descended upon me for what felt like eternity. I wished it had been eternity, anything to avoid the situation I was about to find myself in. Unfortunately, all too soon my blurry vision began to sharpen and I was faced by a thickly populated circle of shuffling footwear (all of it remarkably sturdy I have to say). Tentative laughter rippled above me. I tried to roll painfully onto my back to see what had driven me so forcibly downwards but could not. It was then that I noticed the crushing weight that was pinning me to the ground. I did my best to wriggle out from under it but I couldn’t budge. I wheezed a plea of help towards the pairs of feet in front of me (being pinned to the ground meant my eye line could reach knee height at best). Eventually I heard a click and the weight lifted itself from my back. I rose stiffly to my feet.

I spun around furiously to see what had caused me such humiliation, to be greeted by a flabby, red face beading with sweat and radiating apology. It was the man with the mammoth rucksack. He held a black strap with a half a buckle on the end and gestured weekly towards me. ‘What?’ I snapped angrily.

‘I think my buckles stuck in your belt’.

Another wave of laughter, louder than the first, rippled around the group. It then clicked. As I dodged that offensive camera thrust I must have somehow managed to fasten myself to flabby-faced man’s oversized backpack. Charging on unheeded I had then proceeded to wrench the already precariously balanced man on top of me, pinning me to the floor with his stupid bag. Just to add a little je ne sais quoi I knocked myself out in the process, leaving me splayed and unable to move in the middle of this nosey group of camera clicking morons.

I hastily wrench the offending strap from out of my belt, threw it to the ground and without anything resembling any social grace elbowed my way out through the remainder of the group. Had I simply asked the group to move, in a normal manner, the entire self-inflicted kerfuffle could have been easily avoided. It was clear I had to rethink my socialising tactics, i.e. by talking to people. This was going to be tricky.

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