A bit of tittle-tattle

I was walking casually down the corridor at work the other day when a male voice in a nearby office caught my ear. "And that," it said smugly, "is exactly what breast milk tastes like." Twang went my antenna. Hello, I thought to myself, that's a sentence that sounds like it comes from an interesting source. And it's my personal favourite too - the one that you happen upon completely by chance that might have eventuated from absolutely any normal conversation but has somehow morphed excitingly into something weird, funny or slightly creepy.

You know the conversation you have that starts with a general talk on the advantages of double-sided sticky tape and ends up plotting the overthrow of the mayor or a decision that involves shaving your head. And then just as you're describing your dirty tricks mayoralty campaign or plans to knit your locks into a stylish winter poncho, in walks some stranger to get completely the wrong end of the stick. I was that stranger, and it was my stick. I stuck my head through the doorway to investigate.

"Oi oi," I said, peering with a quizzically arched brow at the occupants of room 506. "Exactly what are you guys talking about?"

Two middle-aged men and three childless 20-something women stared back at me.

"They wanted to know," said one of the males (a recent first- time father), pointing accusingly at the girls, "what it tastes like. So we told them."

Upon further investigation, it emerged that the room was discussing pick-n-mix chocolates and someone said the boxes didn't have as much in them these days and then someone else said the chocolate wasn't up to scratch and yet another said they didn't use the same amount of milk and the guy leaning against the table said the milk they used these days was watery and one of the girls pondered out loud whether it had the consistency of breast milk.

A perfectly innocent and completely appropriate conversation direction, given the circumstances.

"Oh, OK," I said lightly. "That sounds plausible. As you were."

It isn't the first time recently that I've zoned into a conversation at the precise moment it's morphed into something interesting. I was at a media event filled to the brim with willowy television stars and anorexic cheerleaders, when being short and dumpy necessitated a quick retreat to a window and some cool air.

As I gulped in clean, invigorating oxygen, one of the men in deep conversation with another next to me shifted his head enough for me to overhear the discussion.

"And when you hung out with Michael Jackson, was he black or white?" he asked.

Twang went my antenna again. This sounds interesting. As my ears strained to hear the reply, someone put Sexy and I Know It on the jukebox and I once again lamented not learning to lip read. As the song died a natural death, I picked up the conversation again - too late, unfortunately, to get the punchline. "And boy, we laughed until we cried," the man was saying.

"He was weird, but he liked a good joke."

As did three mature women sitting in front of me on a bus who talked for more than 60 minutes continuously in Afrikaans. They whispered, they shouted, they giggled and slapped each other on the back. They snorted, making the high-pitched sounds of those perpetually embarrassed about mistakenly laughing through their noses at a quiet school assembly in some past, distant hall.

It was, honestly, painful.

After 45 minutes of striving to understand what the heck they were talking about, I gave up. Almost asleep, the dark shapes of the city whirring past me, I started when one of the women stood up. In English, clear as a bell, she said "So ladies, now you know why you should never use one-ply toilet paper."

And off the bus she got.

You can imagine the frustration I felt.

One-ply toilet paper is something my dear old dad is particularly averse to, therefore it's a hilarious subject to discuss over Sunday family dinners. I knew that conversation would have been the fertile breeding ground of numerous topics of discussion.

At least it wasn't life- threatening, though. At the supermarket one busy Saturday morning in a tropical rainstorm, I was loitering around the toiletry aisle trying to decide between the shampoo that made you "eww, ahh" in the shower and the stuff that Rachel Hunter said did something special, not overnight, but it would still happen at some stage over the course of your life, when a mysterious dark-haired man in a black trenchcoat engrossed in conversation with a Nordic blonde dropped his bombshell sentence.

"So Natalie," he said firmly, "you must promise me that you'll never buy this particular brand of toothpaste. Stay away from it. Never put it in your mouth. If it's your only choice, go to bed with dirty teeth. It's complete poison."

As I swung toward them slack- jawed, a frazzled mother with two sets of twins drunkenly pushed her trolley into mine. After extricating myself from her, the mysterious man had disappeared without a trace. Years later, I still wonder what brand he was talking about.

Then, just yesterday, as I entered the lift at work, two young girls inside looked at me under lacquered lashes and smirked at each other.

"Yep," said one, "he's got more talents than just playing rugby for the Blues. Way more than one, if you know what I mean."

I knew precisely what she meant.

As I walked past room 519, I stuck my head in and addressed the startled strangers within.

"By the way, breast milk tastes like Rice Dream," I said.

And smiled all the way to my desk.

Taranaki Daily News