I was out in a Brighton Lanes pub with a friend last night. This is the friend who is much prettier than me, and looks rather like Lillian Gish, the film star, when that screen goddess was young and famous in the 1920s. So it was glam and plain sharing the same table. She drank white wine and ate nothing; I drank gin-and-tonic, and tucked into bangers and mash (I do like classic pub fare). She had much to tell me about her present life, and the girls she meets, and she was animated in the telling.
In fact, I thought that after a while she was getting a bit over the top, speaking a shade too distinctly, and mentioning some rather naughty things like super-alcoholic drinks, and illegal tablets and powders that might get popped into them, and randy young women at clubs and pubs who were exposing too much of their bodies, twitching vaginas, and other eroticisms!
But it was all for the benefit of a couple sitting opposite, within earshot, who were right in front of my friend's field of vision, but only on the edge of mine. Apparently the female half of this couple had been glaring at my friend with a strange intensity, that seemed to signify disgust, intolerance, and even hate. I couldn't see what the man's reaction to us was, but I did hear a few words from him, and they didn't sound like English words - so either he was foreign (and therefore she was too), or else he (and she) came from some part of the country that had a very thick and impenetrable accent. Of course, my hearing is not the best.
Anyway, my friend had become aware of this glaring woman and had decided to spice the conversation up with a few shockers, just to pull her leg a bit. They eventually left without saying anything to us, and really I was none the wiser about the situation until my friend explained. Clearly my hatedar is not functioning at all well.
I mulled it all over later on. I wondered why this couple, or at least the woman, had been so put out.
First, Brighton has a tourist reputation that suggests you'll meet wildly flamboyant gay men and lesbians, and other exotic types of people, including trans persons, on every street corner, and in every pub and restaurant. Kissing and fondling each other. You won't in fact see much of this, but the Brighton atmosphere is definitely free and easy. It's not a place for the strait-laced, nor for prudes, and if openly sexual behaviour or conversations offend you, then don't come. So if that glaring woman was a tourist, she should have been ready for anything. Just as she would be if visiting Amsterdam, which has (I'm told) much the same mix of the ordinary and the exotic.
Second, we weren't speaking to each other in a sexy way, or constantly entwined in some embrace. There was nothing about us to cause offence. We are just friends who meet up for a drink now and then. I was sitting upright, eating my bangers and mash carefully, and mostly just listening. No kissing or touching each other, no extravagant gestures, and nothing at all that could be construed as lewd or suggestive or disorderly. Neither of us were wearing dresses or skirts, incidentally - it was a chilly evening, and we were dressed strictly for the weather. Only my friend had much in the way of makeup on. So far as I was concerned, we should have looked like two women having a quiet mid-evening chat, catching up on news. And not like two dissolute old lezzies talking dirty. In fact, if I could have got a word in, I was going to tell my friend about what I saw at Big Pit.
So what was the problem?
My friend hazarded the opinion that the woman might have been afflicted with a cross-looking, pop-eyed face, and deserved sympathy for what nature had endowed her with. If that were so, she could be forgiven. On the other hand, she looked so malevolent that it could only be profound dislike and disgust. But spurred by what exactly? Because she hadn't engaged with us, hadn't asked us who or what we were; and the purely visual clues were hardly conclusive. And the early part of our conversation, about my friend's family, the local bands she'd been seeing, and the football match on the big TV near us, was ordinary enough for anybody listening in on it.
M--- used to get annoyed by what she termed 'mean-spirited people'. People who lived joyless lives, because of their general attitude. Who never had a good word or thought for anybody else, because it was their nature to be mean and disparaging. So they would leap to criticisms, and would make their disapproval plain with a sour face and sour words. I think this woman was one of those. Somehow we had earned her deep enmity.
It's easy to think of prejudice and ignorance when members of the public stare and look annoyed. And I can see how anyone in our position might be sure that there is a large crowd about who, given the chance, would literally kick us to death. But I think there are just as many people who are simply mean-spirited, who would put you down in any event, whoever you were, because that's what they do to everybody. It's a habit, part of their nature. All you can do is ignore them. My friend didn't: she teased that woman. But then she's bolder than me.