I’ve attracted many new admirers this week – including a “sea worker” from Panama

She doesn’t look like a sea worker; she looks like a primary school teacher, or the proprietor of a slightly over-chintzy tea shop in Worthing.

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It’s another quiet night in the MacHovel. (The days, by the way, are not quiet. I live in the middle of what must be the corvid equivalent of Rio de Janeiro, and the crows and jackdaws go on and on and on all day long. There is also a very noisy tractor that goes past my window every ten minutes.)

I get a request on a social medium to be, you know, friends. Hell, why not? She has a nice face, and knows J—, who tends to have sound taste in people.

Up pops a private message from this person, whom I will call Cheryl.

“Hi,” says Cheryl.

Naturally, the blood runs cold. The mistake, as Beckett said, is to speak to people.

Despite a certain terseness in my reply, “Cheryl” becomes garrulous, in a way that suggests she may not be all she claims to be – viz a passionate woman who loves life but is lonely because her husband died in a car crash a couple of years ago. She is also inquisitive. She asks me what I am up to. I send her a link to my last column. In fact, I send her a link to all my columns. This tends to sort out the dedicated from the faint of heart. Cheryl, it seems, is a fast reader, for not long afterwards she asks me if I want to love and be loved.

“Nah,” I reply. I ask her what she does, and this is where it gets a little strange. She is, she replies, “a sea worker”. What the hell is that? Is it a typo for “sex worker”? And, if so, is that the kind of thing people admit to on first acquaintance? Anyway, she doesn’t look like either a sea worker or a sex worker; she looks like a primary school teacher, or the proprietor of a slightly over-chintzy tea shop in Worthing.

“What exactly is a sea worker?” I ask.

“I am captain of a cargo ship in Panama,” she replies.

This throws me a little. I can’t say I was expecting that. However, something seems a little off, so I express my doubts to her, at which point she changes tack. (Thought I’d drop in a little nautical metaphor there.)

“Oh my god,” she says. Her son, who is apparently called Kelvin, has been in an accident, and she needs $300. Can I send her $300?

“No,” I reply.

She replies with a series of photographs of someone who has clearly been in a bad accident. On a stretcher, tubes and everything. Frankly, it looks like she’s going to need a lot more than $300 to patch Kelvin up, although it seems as though the pictures are all of different people.

“I’ll pass,” I say. “Anyway, Kelvin had it coming. This will be a valuable lesson to him, stop him from hanging out with that bad crowd.” After a while I get bored of this and block her.

I wonder how often these scams succeed. There was a time when a woman with a surprisingly conventional name like Mary would email me and say, “Lezard! Are you in London?” The use of the surname wasn’t very sexy. It turned out she was furious with her cheating boyfriend and wanted to get back at him – but it was very important that instead of communicating by email, I should click on the link in the email in order to carry on speaking, as her boyfriend is very jealous and reads her emails. Also, if I click on the link I will see some lovely pictures of her. Blah blah blah.

I am not so deluded that I imagine women all round the world are pausing in their sea work etc in order to fill the void in their lives. Who falls for these scams? They’re like incompetent versions of the Turing Test.

However, the best one came a few days ago, via the same social medium as “Cheryl”. This time there were many more mutual friends. However, there was something familiar about her surname. I did a little googling, then messaged her.

“Hang on,” I wrote. “You’re not Rod Liddle’s wife, are you?”

It turns out that she is. Now, in case you’ve forgotten, or never knew, Roderick Liddle (his real name) – the windbag who seems to attract accusations of racism more than is statistically probable – and I are no longer on speaking terms, ever since I drew his, and his editor’s, attention to certain inaccuracies that had surfaced in one of his articles. I will spare you the details. The idea of being “friends” in that social-media sense with his wife did, I must admit, have a certain appeal. It also seemed incredibly unlikely, and I wondered whether this was actually another scam; whether sooner or later she was going to ask me for £500 for a life-saving operation for her cockapoo.

But the next day, we were no longer friends. I hope it wasn’t because her husband had had a word with her. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 15 March 2019 issue of the New Statesman, She’s lost control