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My future was described to me in detail by a brisk man, in a town famous for making carpets

“You’re Ian McMillan!” he says, his finger jabbing the air between me and him. I nod. “You’re a poet!” he says. His voice is rising a little.

By Ian McMillan

I clamber off a train at Kidderminster Station and my glasses glint in the late-afternoon sun. This is happening a few years ago, so my hair isn’t completely white and I’m a little more rotund than I am these days. Some things don’t change, though: then, as I do now, I’m carrying a bag packed with pamphlets and books of my deathless verse, because I’m hoping to sell them at my poetry reading at the library later. The train chugs away and I walk out of the station.

A man hurries towards me. If one word defined him, it would be the word “brisk”. He is briskness personified, in the shining, multi-buttoned leisurewear of the recently retired. He fixes me with a gaze that is only slightly softened by the privet hedge of his eyebrows. He points at me. I stop walking and stand as still as a chess piece.

“You’re Ian McMillan!” he says, his finger jabbing the air between me and him. I nod. “You’re a poet!” he says. His voice is rising a little. It’s not that he’s shouting, but it feels like he has the capability to shout. Again, I nod. I feel that I should speak, so I say, “Yes, I am.”

“You’re reading your poems at the library tonight!” he says, his finger pointing up the road. This is so strange. My short-term future is being fleshed out for me by a complete stranger in a town in the Midlands famous for making carpets. I feel like a bare room that is being carpeted by a random stranger. I nod again.

A couple are watching us, nervously, as if the man were dangerous. I have to admit that I feel a little nervous, but I feel more intrigued. The man points again.

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“The event,” he says, as though reading from a brochure, “begins at 19.30 and will finish at 21.00. You will read and discuss your work and then you will take questions from the audience. Light refreshments will be served before and after the reading.”

I am laughing now. I agree: “Yes, that’s what’s due to happen.” The man somehow seems to be generating his own heat. I’m sweating, and I see that he is, too.

“The tickets are £5 full price and £3 for concessions,” he trumpets, “and the meeting room at the library holds about 60 people.” He is now parading local knowledge that I don’t possess, but I carry on nodding. The couple also nod, so he must be right.

The man steps closer to me in the waning Kidderminster afternoon. His breath smells of mints. He is friendly, but assertive. He repeats his roll-call of facts: “You’re Ian McMillan. You’re a poet. You’re reading your poems at the library tonight. The event will begin at 19.30 and finish at 21.00. You will read and discuss your work and then you will take questions from the audience. Light refreshments will be served before and after the reading. The tickets are £5 full price and £3 for concessions.” He stares at me. I nod. “That’s all true,” I say. The couple have open mouths like Os.

He leans in. “I’m not coming!” he shouts, and he turns and walks briskly away. 

This article appears in the 05 Apr 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Spring Double Issue