Recently, I was in a cafe in London when I overheard a phone conversation - the young woman on the table next to me talked, loudly, of finding her friend who had hanged himself. I grabbed my notebook, as you do, and wrote it all down.
If I gave you details of that conversation - which was riveting, in spite of (or maybe because of) it's gruesomeness - it's possible that young woman could be identified. Now I'd be astonished if she every saw this blog, or if any of her friends did. The chances that anyone would put two and two together and she would find out I'd written about her are minimal.
But still, I'm left with questions, about her, and about my listening to her: How much was her horror about herself or about her friend, and does that distinction matter? Should she have had that conversation in front of her 4-year-old, tucking into chips beside her, or does the urgency of her need to unburden herself make that allowable?
Should I have written it down in the first place (it was impossible not to listen - the whole cafe was captivated)?
I often scribble down overheard conversations in cafes. Some find their ways into stories, or into my travel books, suitably disguised. I defy anyone to identify themselves - unless I've asked permission in which case real names are used.
But this feels different - it's too personal, too terrible - to play with the details. I feel that both this young woman and her friend need the dignity of keeping the truth of their stories to themselves. So I'm not going to tell you any more - but what would you have done?