MIDWAY: Shutting up bores

Last week, I had to take a long taxi ride home at the end of an especially prolonged and exhausting day. It was late at night, and the journey was set to last an hour. As the car pulled away, I slumped in the back seat and closed my eyes, enjoying the gentle rock and hum, drifting away to snug semi-consciousness almost immediately the soft, welcoming arms of sleep began to embrace me.

But the driver had other plans. He was eyeing me in the mirror. “Long day?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, half-yawning, snuggling down in my seat. “I was thinking of taking Western Avenue. What do you think of Western Avenue?” he said.

“Sounds fine to me,” I replied snoozily, all heavy lips and closed lids. “Course the satnav’s suggesting another route, but then that’s satnav for you, isn’t it?” said he, chucking a gentle

“ha ha” on the end for good measure. In the world of pointless small talk, “ha ha” is short for “Cuh, life, eh? We’re all in it together aren’t we, eh?”

Most of the time, boring people are either a) unnoticeable or b) inoffensive. Or c) newspaper columnists.

In any case, they’re usually easy to avoid. It’s only when you’re stuck in close proximity to them for an extended period that they truly cross the line from dreary to irksome. Taxis are a classic hot spot, as are long-haul flights.

The sensible method is to politely say, “Sorry, I’m a bit tired — do you mind if I just have a nap?” the minute they start talking, at the very start of the journey. But that might seem snooty. Plus it’s vanilla and dull. Instead, the best and most entertaining option is one I read about in a Penn & Teller book. It goes like this.

Turn to your unwanted companion at the first opportunity, and explain to them that you have a condition which makes you sleep with your eyes open. It’s harmless, you say, but it can be quite creepy. After about 10 minutes, slowly loll your head sideways toward them, keeping your eyes wide open, staring at the side of their face.

They’ll be far too weirded out to utter a word. Brilliant. Probably doesn’t work on cab drivers though, unless perhaps you’re sitting in the front passenger seat. And even then it might make them crash. Worth trying though. I’ll let you know.