Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Saturday 3 September 2016

The Curious Incident of the Man in the Street

We were stopped in the street yesterday.
We, by which I mean the husband and I, had wondered into town to do some stuff and things, mostly to do with paying bills, posting stuff and finding research materials. This happens at least once a week, and in a busy week can happen almost daily. Often, we go together, but when the husband’s busy, I generally run the errands so as not to break his stride.

We were stopped in the street yesterday.

Once upon a time, I used to be approached by men, at random, and not always appropriately. That was back in the last quarter of the last century. I realise that times haven’t changed much when it comes to women being harassed in public, but I have changed, and men stopped approaching me in that way at around the time I had my first child.

The husband and I are often stopped in the street… OK… the husband is often stopped in the street. People seem to know who he is.

Sometimes, we are stopped in the street, sometimes at the self-service checkout in Sainsbury’s (yes there is an unexpected item in the bagging error, it’s a bloke leaning in to shake the husband’s hand), we were stopped in the British Museum once… but mostly we’re just… you know… stopped in the street.

The husband is generally happy to be approached in public. In fact, I can remember only one occasion when he was non-plussed, and I think anyone would be during a visit to a public loo. I wasn’t actually there for that one, so I have to take the husband’s word for it.

I don’t want to suggest that the people who stop us in the street adhere to a ‘type’, but it generally isn’t difficult to work out the reason for an approach when one is about to happen. We’re usually stopped by men aged between 20 and 40, casually dressed, and generally either smiling broadly or looking a little nervous, sometimes both.

We were stopped in the street, yesterday, by a man, and definitely not in the usual way. He was an older man, probably ten or even twenty years older than either of us. I’m not sure I’ve ever been stopped in the street by someone like him. Honestly, I thought perhaps he was going to ask for directions.

Then he began to say something. He was a little hesitant at first, but, seeing us smile, he became more animated.

The husband and I up close and personal at the
red carpet screening of Guardians of the Galaxy
The man who stopped us in the street, yesterday, did so because we were sauntering along in the afternoon sunshine, holding hands. He was happy to see this very slight and perfectly ordinary show of affection between us.

I’ve been holding hands with the husband for over thirty years, and I think very little of it. I don’t think I notice when we do it. I know that I notice when we’re not holding hands, usually because one or both of us is carrying bags.

The man who stopped us pointed out that people don’t hold hands any more. Honestly, I hadn’t noticed. I wonder if he notices because he has no one to hold hands with. I don’t know. I do know that the husband and I casually holding hands as we walked down the street was a source of delight to the old man. After all, he was so pleased with us that he stopped to comment.

Today, the husband and I were out again, and, again, we did some handholding. I kept half-an-eye on what other people were doing walking down the street, and the old man was right; people don’t seem to hold hands any more. At least, I didn’t see anyone else doing it.

I saw lots of people carrying bags, or with their hands stuffed in their pockets. I saw people fiddling about with things. The majority of people who were out in couples seemed to be on the young side, which I guess isn’t very unusual for a Saturday afternoon. 

Young couples, almost by definition, are new couples, and I always imagine that couples are most affectionate in the first flush of their relationships. The young couples I saw today were not holding hands…

…Many of them were messing about with mobile phones, but none were holding hands. Go figure.


  1. It's nice to hear there are surviving romantics! Maybe we are anomalies?

  2. We were stopped by an older woman recently for exactly the same reason, she thought it was both unusual and charming!