People Watching and People Watching You

There is no doubt that Gerry was a people person. And there’s nothing he liked more than people watching. Not in a judgy or nosey way. He loved to study and observe people as they went about their daily lives. I am not sure when it started. But I think that studying social anthropology at university fed this hobby. After all social anthropology is a souped up scientific version of people-watching. (Apologies to any scientists reading this.)

My favourite childhood memories are sitting in a car with Dad. Unlike other parents, Dad didn’t listen to the radio or sigh impatiently as we waited. The time always passed by quickly.

We’d sit “up the town” in Derry. Usually parked up at the Diamond or on a side street nearby. And we just looked out the window. This was the simple era before smartphones of course!

We’d spot traffic wardens taking out their notebooks to write up parking tickets. And we’d crane our necks to look for the car owner running back to try to stop the inevitable parking fine. We watched wives and husbands arguing. And we also saw the precursor to married life – wooing partners “showing off” to impress their beloveds. It also goes without saying that we were always on the lookout for an angry person who could be fascinating and unpredictable to watch.

People Watching on the Derry Walls
People Watching on the Derry Walls. With thanks to

Watching people and writing about them

Dad had a column in the Belfast Telegraph for many years. We are grateful that the good people at the Tele have published his articles and celebrated them as part of their 150th anniversary. 

This first article from 2008 sums up his people watching pastime perfectly:

I’m sitting in a car outside the General Post Office in Stroke City idly watching the world go by. It’s one o’clock on a late September afternoon and I reflect that thirty years of the Troubles have done little to improve the way we live here…..

….They’re (Japanese Tourists) more taken by the sight of two chemically enhanced youths wearing baseball caps laughing, swearing and urinating against these same hallowed medieval walls in full view of passers-by.

But there’s worse to come. From a side street containing more like him, lurches a man who looks as if he has just arrived from Hell.

His hair and eyes are wild, he has lost one shoe and is dressed in almost-rags. He clutches a small, flat bottle of whiskey and grabs one of the Japanese by the coat-sleeve demanding money for more whiskey.

A local would have just snarled at the drunk and shaken him off. Happens every day. But apparently they do things differently in Japan. The tourist yelps as if he’s being attacked by a maniac waving a bottle.

Gerry Anderson, The Belfast Telegraph

We witness a scene of utter carnage. I’m not sure what was funnier – the fact that it is happening right in front of you. Or the fact that most people are walking right past, completely oblivious to the scene.

Gerry was great at observing obscure details. And trying to predict what would happen next between fits of laughter. He loved the lunacy of normal life. Like a person “pushing a buggy in front of a lorry to make it stop”. And the incredulous expressions of tourists, who you could spot because they wore ‘real clothes’.

But a word of caution. Once you develop people skills there are things you see that you can’t unsee.

I always feel like somebody’s watching me

Gerry couldn’t people watch and stay cocooned in his car forever. When the occasion demanded it, he would have to go out and about. The pub, usually a local in Derry, became tricky territory for him. Over time, he was becoming ‘the watched’, and he knew it.

Dad stayed very quiet in a pub. He would either sit silently or stay deep in conversation with one person. He rarely addressed a crowd of people. And never appeared to be drunk, regardless of the vodka and white wine consumed.

When he became well known, entering a pub meant running the gauntlet. He was always one quip away from getting thumped.

Even the mundane necessity of going to the toilet could become an ordeal as he describes in this article:

I am trapped in the toilet by a man who is giggling uncontrollably. I try not to look alarmed. I break away but he follows me out the door and insists that I sit for a while at his table and meet his mates and their girlfriends. He physically drags me in their direction. I am powerless to resist. Others are watching the outcome with interest. I sit down and say hello. None of them speak to me. I slip quietly back to my barstool.

Gerry Anderson, The Belfast Telegraph

Exit stage left

Despite the challenges, we had many great nights out with Dad. But he was an expert at knowing when to leave. His people watching skills were so honed that he knew when a night or party had peaked.

I was always surprised when he whispered in my ear “that’s me now; time to go”. But in the cold light of day on the following morning, I realised that he had left the party on a high. The messiness usually happened after he was safely home!

5 responses to “People Watching and People Watching You”

  1. Nice memories..i recorded Toe Jam in Colms old house and would love to hear them or any recordings of them…Ted Ponsonby here and im related to the Arbucles…

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