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The woman in front of me in our local mini market sounds as though she’s popped a plum from the fruit selection into her mouth before speaking. She’s dressed by Barbour and has a Land Rover Defender outside. Everything about her screams ‘POSH.’ Everything … except the newspaper she’s plonked on the counter. I let out an audible ‘Hah!’ Well-to do-she may be, but she gets her news from the most unreliable rag going. Instantly, all the material trappings on show mean nothing. I know exactly who she is, how she thinks, what she thinks. I’m not impressed.

I’m in a queue at Dunelm. Ahead of me, the cashier asks a customer for their email address. The customer reacts as if the cashier asked her if she keeps a dildo in her beside cabinet. ‘I don’t have one of those,’ she spits. I’m sure she actually shuddered. She’s not old, younger than me. What sort of person in the twenty-first century behaves as though email is a dirty word?

Blue Monday, Clatworthy Reservoir

A crisp, blue day at Clatworthy Reservoir.

We’ve just finished a walk around Clatworthy Reservoir and are doing muscle stretches beside our car. The sun is shining; it’s a gorgeous winter day. A car pulls up and a couple about the same age as us get out. ‘What a fabulous day for a walk, especially seeing as it’s Blue Monday,’ Andy says to them. ‘Blue Monday?’ the woman replies, perplexed. ‘Never heard of it, what is it?’ This tells me she’s never had to fret about her wages lasting throughout a month that goes on forever. Maybe she never listens to the radio, watches TV, or reads a newspaper because Blue Monday has been mentioned numerous times during the preceding days.

There’s a disgruntled queue at the machine in the car park at Taunton. It’s recently gone cashless. This change has confounded many users. If the people voicing their annoyance in front of me were doing so because of concerns about becoming a cashless society, I would join in. They’re not, they’re furious because they can’t use the machine. There is a sign outlining steps to follow beside it, but the man randomly pressing buttons won’t read it. He eventually gets to the part where should introduce his card. He can’t make it work. ‘Try using contactless,’ I suggest. ‘Oh, I’m not doing that,’ he snaps back, his words laced with suspicion. He’s happy to punch in his pin number in front of a crowd, yet not to swipe his card. When I eventually get to the machine the transaction is over in seconds. Next time I I’ll use the app and it will be even quicker. I feel partly sorry for the people who huddle around the machine, struggling to make it work. The world is changing at a rapid rate. No, amend that. I feel sorry for people my mum’s age. This all happened after they left the world of work. I feel less sympathy for people my own age and younger. Digital technology has been around for over quarter of a century. There comes a point when people make a conscious decision not to learn something.

This automatic judging happens numerous times a day. It’s unfashionable, I know. Countless memes on the socials preach about the merits of being less judgemental, more tolerant, how we should live and let live, and all that jazz. I’m out of step. I find I’m judging people more and more.

I hold my hands up, it’s something I’ve always done. Watch people. Observe. Make mental notes about what sort of person they might be – i.e. make judgements. Maybe it’s part and parcel of being a writer, even though I was doing this long before I took up writing as a profession.

Once, it used to be for fun. Years ago, we enjoyed playing a game called ‘Fashion Police,’ not that we weren’t guilty of some fashion faux pas ourselves. A particularly memorable spot was outside a bar called Alexis Corner in Lindos Town on Corfu. Four of us would sit, dipping pitta into taramasalata and tzatziki and drinking beer while dishing out yellow and red cards to badly dressed day visitors to the town – mostly cruise passengers in outfits so garish they scared the donkeys.

Now, though, it’s become more serious. Probably since Brexit, I feel I’m living through Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I watch people, looking for clues they might have a pod in their garden or back room. Although, in reality, it’s unlikely to be a pod, more a trashy tabloid that’s nibbled away at their brains to create a subliminal version of a zombie plague. In pubs and public spaces, I register what people read – papers, books, magazines – viewing them with suspicion if any are dodgy publications. When I’m invited into someone’s house, I find my eyes scanning the bookcase, if there is one, taking note of its contents, formulating a profile of the person whose house I’m in.

Subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, I constantly look for clues that hint at whether someone is sound or not, a judgement that is clearly subjective. The people I consider racists, bigots, homophobes, xenophobes et al are unlikely to view themselves as wrong ‘uns. Quite the opposite. People like me are the villains in their story. Was the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers about the dangers of McCarthyism, or a warning about Communism? It remains a topical question because, like many things today, the answer depends on whose eyes you look through.


Idyllic, except for the smell in one guest’s room.

Watching, listening, taking mental notes isn’t always related to serious subjects, it’s also great for picking up traits, quirks, and quotes to apply to characters. Here’s one of my favourites, courtesy of an English couple staying in the room next to us in a small rural hotel in Provence, and uttered loudly in a posh accent:
‘It’s not the French plumbing that’s responsible for that smell, it is your arse!’

Anything you say can and will be used against you.

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Jack Montgomery

Jack is an author, travel writer, photographer, and a Slow Travel consultant who has been writing professionally for twenty years. Follow Jack on Facebook for information about his writing, travel tips, photographs, and tales of life in a tiny rural village in Somerset.

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Welcome to my Canvas

Some of the items on this site won’t be to everyone’s liking, I get that. Basically this is my place, my wee studio to mess around in – experimenting with words and thoughts. I’ll be chuffed if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, c’est la vie. As a friend used to tell me “it would be a boring life if we all thought the same.”

Jack Montgomery
A wine press,
On a farm at the end of the dirt track,
The Setúbal Peninsula,