Last week I was walking my wee Westie, Angus, as I often do, while listening to a podcast.
I download them on to my smart phone – documentaries, dramas and comedy. From Brian Cox and Robin Ince talking Astrophysics on The Infinite Monkey Cage to Just a Minute with Nicolas Parsons, it’s fantastic to have so much choice. I love my podcasts, and they have become my company as I roam the local lanes and fields.
On this particular walk, on my way to the fields, I cut through one of our local parks. This might have been part of the problem. There is a certain etiquette in local parks. You are supposed to be socialising your dog, and socialising yourself. I broke both rules. Intent on getting through the park on my longer walk, I kept Angus on the lead and continued to listen to my podcast.
“I HATE these things!” an elderly man blocked my path, jabbing his finger towards my earphones. His little curly haired black spaniel was lying in the ‘wait’ position on the path beside him, clearly expecting to have a friendly dog encounter with Angus.
I took my earphones out.
“I’m listening to a podcast, it’s very interesting,” I said, “it’s about Astrophysics.”
Why was I trying to explain myself???
“Well,” continued the irate man, “I said ‘hello’ three times and you didn’t hear me. These things just cut people off. I hate them.”
What could I say? I didn’t want to get into an argument, so I just shrugged in an embarrassed sort of a way and continued on my walk.
One thing was certain, I was certainly not going to apologise to a stranger for listening to a podcast while walking my dog.
What right, I thought to myself, full of indignation, did that man have to tell me not to listen to my very interesting podcast? Some people use earphones to signal that they don’t want to be accosted in parks. Don’t people have the right to be unsociable now and again?
Half an hour further on in my walk, the podcast forgotten, I wondered if maybe he had a point. In the fields and on long solitary walks, maybe listening to music or podcasts is OK, but in a public park when you are walking past other people, perhaps it’s just a little bit rude?
Without the earphones in, I enjoyed the sound of birdsong, the crunch of my feet on the newly cut fields. And I decided that maybe I’ll cut down on the podcasts when I’m out walking. Maybe I’ll listen to the real world again, as I did before a whole new world of entertainment became available on my smartphone.
And if I’m in the park and I see that man again, I’ll stop to chat, and I’ll find out what his dog’s name is.
Because life is short, and people matter, and who knows what a friendly word means to somebody.