Observations from a Sidewalk Café

Les Rees

Sitting outside on a sidewalk café, I've chosen a shady spot to watch the world go by. It's one of my favourite haunts amidst the laid back casualness of Nimbin life. Anything can happen here, there are buskers playing music ranging from kids to adults, some good and some not so good; tarot readers secrete themselves at tables bedecked with cards and crystals discretely set for two, and animated conversations strike up between friends as tourists wonder past intrigued by the colour of life in Nimbin.

It always amazes me when I see someone who is apparently deep in conversation with an invisible person... I sit down and see him immediately, he's sitting on a step opposite my table and I'm transfixed. Like the passers-by, I try not to look but it's so engaging; the imaginary friend seems completely real to him but invisible to me. Yet the man's reactions and emotions seem as if his friend is actually present and I wonder if it's maybe me who's in a parallel universe. They laugh at shared jokes and have conversations of which I only hear half and when an interested passer-by notices him, he wonders past twice pretending to be looking at his phone. The second time he traverses the pavement to get closer, I suspect that he's taking photos or a video of this interesting man. The funny thing is that the guy notices him and rolls his eyes to his imaginary friend and laughs. This is absolutely fascinating.

I hear you say that it's just another druggie but to me it's another human being that's chosen a way not to feel lonely, who's given up caring about what other people think. Maybe he has a point!

My analytical mind drifts to wondering whether this happens with other social animals living alone. There are plenty of examples of unusual and devoted friendships between different species who have found creative ways of stemming loneliness. Take Bernard for example, he was a bull living next door to us who had wandered down from the hillside away from the rest of his herd and didn't seem to want to go back. I suspect that he was pretty shrewd, escaping the inevitable by hiding out but it was a lonely life for him. He cried out when the other cattle were nearby and when they weren't, he chattered to himself. Our horses often hung out with him over the fence offering him a temporary place amongst their herd. Bernard roamed back and forth visiting his animal mates trespassing on the farms along our road for a couple of years before he was found out and I have to say that I missed not seeing him around!

I'm always saddened when I see horses in living solitary confinement that have developed habitual behaviour patterns born out of loneliness. Being social animals, they have their own hierarchical structure that provides a code of acceptable behaviours and offers mutual protection from threatening situations. This goes some way to explaining why horses living in isolation can become extremely stressed. It can cause both psychological and physiological issues often becoming aggressive in nature and having significant effects on their relationships with humans. As a result they are often sold on to the next unsuspecting person and can live a life of misery as they are passed on to more and more homes. Unfortunately, there are few people who have the skills needed to rehabilitate horses that have shut down and it has become common to find horses on death row in the knacker's yard!

Working with rescue horses, it was surprising how many phone calls we received from these places asking if it would be possible to take them in for rehabilitation. At least these places had a conscience.

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