Two odd things happened to me last week. The first one happened in the late evening. I was standing outside having a smoke (the Hove-l is smoke-free) when a man approached me. It was too late in the day for a debt collector, and he didn’t have a threatening demeanour, so I didn’t run. (I was once given a handy tip: they can’t take anything from your person. So if they hammer your door down, carry your laptop. As that and my grandfather’s wristwatch are the only items of any value I possess – and I can’t imagine my laptop has much resale value, if any – I hope this is true.) Anyway, back to the man.
He looked to be in his early forties; bearded. A nice beard, as beards go. You think: cool English teacher.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but I live over the road” – he pointed to the first floor of one of the envy-inducing houses I can see from my bedroom window – “and I’ve seen you standing out here smoking many times and I couldn’t help wondering about you.”
[See also: A tense time – take an M&S bedsheet from its package and there’s no going back]
This is an attention-grabber, I had to admit to myself. I didn’t think I was being chatted up. After the year I spent in Scotland I lost my ability to detect flirtation but it’s back up to more or less working order now, and from this guy I was getting not a flicker. But I had taken drink earlier in the evening, and so was in affable mood. We spent the next 20 minutes chatting, and during that we covered a lot of ground. I found out he’s a graphic designer; that he strongly recommends the nearby pub, the Hole in the Wall; and we got that close to divulging how much our rents were. Well, how could I fail to think well of him? He had obviously been thinking, “Who is this suave, sophisticated figure in his waistcoat, an enigmatic smile playing over his lips from time to time, as if recalling a former lover with kindness, or crafting a bon mot to be savoured at some distinguished salon? I must get to know him.” So we agreed to go for a drink the next evening.
Of course, the next day dawned, and I woke up in horror. What had I done? I groaned as I remembered that I had told him my name, what I did for a living, and suggested – aaargh! – that he look up some of my work online, as I was reasonably unashamed of most of it. This meant that he would have looked at my Wikipedia entry. My Wikipedia entry is small but it is still there. It is deeply weird. About a century ago, my great-uncle, who died before I was born, married a minor member of the aristocracy and they make heavy weather of this. My entry changes each time I look at it, which has been, so far, about three or four times in my life. My favourite edit was the one which contained the line “he blames Thatcher for everything”, and I was sorry to see that go. Now, you can’t say “Don’t look at my Wikipedia entry, it’s weird”, because then that’s the first thing the other person will do.
[See also: Since when is the point of an English degree getting a “highly skilled” job?]
Anyway, after a day hiding under the duvet, I crossed the road the evening after and, with great trepidation, rang the doorbell. There was, thank God, no answer. And I have seen no signs of occupancy since. Has he looked me up and packed his bags in horror? Or are he and his partner just on holiday? I may never know.
The other odd thing happened when I picked up my friend D— from the train station. I thought it would be nice to take her to the Battle of Trafalgar, for it is close and they sort of know me there. Little did I know how much.
“Funny,” said the barman, “someone was in here asking after you the other day.” My blood ran chill. “He actually had a photo of you on his phone. He said you drank here and asked if you had been here lately. It was a stock photo, not a personal one of you in a brothel or something.”
“Did he look like a bailiff?” I asked.
“Mmm. No, not really.”
“Did he look rich?”
So I put this question to my lovely and discerning readers. Have any of you been to the Battle of Trafalgar and asked the barman if I have been in lately? Because I think you should ’fess up if you have; you scared the bejesus out of me. In fact I am having something of a panic attack as I type these words. Something along the lines of, “Yes, it was me, and all I wanted to do was buy you a drink, in return for all the happy times I have spent reading you; the tears as well as the smiles; the self-deprecating wisdom, the wry observations.” You know, something to put my mind at rest. I am inclined to think the best of people but I am not so green as I am cabbage-looking, as I believe they say up north. D—, who is herself from the north, took all this in her stride, but I was shaking so much I spilled half my pint before I sat down at the table.
And don’t look up my Wikipedia entry. It’s weird.
[See also: The Brixton where I once sought hash and Red Stripe has gone missing]
This article appears in the 20 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Broken Party