For example, this week a man of about 60 who seemed like a very pleasant average citizen told me that he used to live in London but he didn't dare go there anymore because it had been taken over by the Muslims. He wasn't referring to the mayoral elections. He genuinely believed no elderly white man was safe walking the streets. When I said that I went there often and I thought it had a fun mix of people and you could be whatever you wanted to be there he gave me one of those pitying looks that indicated that I couldn't possibly mean it.
A few minutes later I got into a second conversation with a perfectly ordinary person who also wasn't remotely a member of the British Movement or an enthusiastic UKIP supporter. He told me that we had to vote exit so we could get rid of all the immigrants who were coming over and ruining the country. When I gently pointed out that a lot of immigrants were working very hard at unpopular jobs and paying tax that was currently being used to pay for the pensions we were both drawing and the NHS care we were both receiving it was clear that he hadn't met anyone who held that point of view for a very long time. I was informed that we already had quite enough of the buggers and it was time we did something about it so he was going to vote out.
This is what is most interesting and significant about the EU debate. Most of the participants on both sides are trying to frame the debate on the basis of some kind of logical argument but that isn't what is going on with a significant minority of the public. To give Farage his due he tries very hard to stop his supporters from playing the race card and openly argues against racism. I think this is underestimated in importance when you compare his position with the openly and enthusiastically racist Nation Front party in France or the Austrian far right. We are fortunate that even the far right in the UK states its anti-racism fairly frequently.
But what is being said by the exit camp and what significant numbers of the people I am speaking to are hearing aren't the same. A lot of people are going to vote out because they genuinely believe that when we leave Europe someone will kick out all the blacks and we'll go back to how things were in the 1950s. There is a visceral emotional certainty amongst many out supporters that one single step will put an end to all our problems and those problems pretty much begin and end with foreigners.
If the vote to leave succeeds then it will feed and encouraging that emotion. There is a kind of naughty enthusiasm amongst a faction of the public that sees an out vote as THE opportunity to tell government that the country is being taken over by foreigners and it has to stop. A win for the out campaign would normalise and verify some quite ugly sentiments.
There are, of course, plenty of out folk who are voting to leave on much more reasonable calculations. I disagree with them but the disagreement is a healthy one. They think we must leave because we will get rid of all red tape and bureaucracy. I think this means we will get rid of workers' rights, women's rights and environmental controls. Many out folk say we must leave so we can trade more with the rest of the world. I can't see what is stopping us from doing that now. Germany certainly manages to maintain a successful manufacturing industry and sell across the world. So far as I can see we simply create uncertainty about the future of our relationship with our biggest market where we sell 47% of our goods. Out campaigners say we will have lots of new money to spend because we won't send anything to Brussels. I think the harm of austerity is nothing to do with the EU and everything to do with irresponsible banks creating a massive boom and bust in a dangerously uncontrolled market. I also think we've done one sensible thing to fend off the bust which was to print £375 billion of money - way more than anything we've sent to Brussels. Then we've wasted that quantitative easing money by giving it to banks to create a property and stock market boom that does nothing to transform our economy. In short I think in or out of Europe is actually completely the wrong debate. What we should be discussing is how to transform our economy for a low energy future and how to improve our balance of payments by investing in future technology.
More and more people seem to be starting to agree with me that on balance we need to stay in. They, like me, have huge numbers of criticisms of the EU. They see European political collaboration as hard, difficult and messy work. But they also see it as necessary. They want to see the EU reformed by the UK's influence rather than weakened by its absence. Many of them are worried that Turkey could be allowed full membership at a time when its President is busy destroying its democracy and its free press. Many of them are also worried that the Syrian situation is creating challenges that look really hard for the EU to resolve effectively. They see the problems as highly significant. But they are unconvinced that we can solve Europe wide problems by simply trying to separate ourselves from Europe and leaving those problems to our neighbours.
The referendum is likely to be decided by how many of those who quietly want to stay in turn out and vote. The convinced out voters are very determined and will turn out regardless. The in folk are much less sure that this is the biggest issue around and don't always sound like they think it is really worth their time and effort to turn up and vote. They may not bother.
I suspect the outcome will be very similar to the Scottish referendum. At the last minute droves of people will decide that all this exit talk really is too much of a gamble. When the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, the Lib Dems and the Greens agree on something the majority of voters will decide that it is just possible that they aren't all getting it wrong.
What happens then is not so simple. Regardless of who wins there will be a legacy from the campaign. People won't ditch prejudices they have felt able to openly air just because the vote has been decided. The folk who have openly shared their conviction that we are being over-run by foreigners with their neighbours over the garden fence don't seem very ready to change their minds. Scotland shows us very clearly that you can win a vote at the polls by quite dramatic margins one year. But you can't remove the emotions that the campaign generated quickly or easily.
The emotions generated by those who wanted Scottish independence don't seem to me to have soured Scottish politics in any way. Rather they have enhanced it and energised people to take an interest in the future of their country. The emotions generated during the out campaign across the UK may leave a much more damaging legacy.
Cameron clearly thinks that he can let an EU debate run its course and then we'll all get back to normal business. If what I'm coming across is remotely typical then it is going to take a lot longer to repair the damage than he thinks.