I feel a new terror when travelling on the bus, at least the 113 – and it’s because of the video cameras that observe and relay pictures of the passengers. There’s a screen placed just above the stairs, so while you wait on the bus as it inches through the clot of traffic that always builds up at the lights just before St John’s Wood Tube station, you are offered several vistas, shown in rotation, of your fellow “customers” (as Transport for London whimsically calls us) looking bored, or dopey, or fretful. People don’t look their best on these cameras but, even knowing this, I was unprepared for the shock I got when I caught a glimpse on the screen of a little old man waiting to get off and realised it was me.
Do not be deceived by the image that adorns this column: should you wish for a more accurate one, I suggest you find a bottle of Tipp-Ex and paint the hair white. Tempus fugit and all that, but these days it seems as though it’s running for its life. Yet, every so often, it loops round and meets you coming back the other way, as occurred when my mother announced that she had made a dentist’s appointment for us both the other day. I don’t know about you but I think 50 is too old to be going to the dentist with your mother, so I feigned illness and cancelled in the morning. Also, it was raining. It seems to be doing a lot of that at the moment.
Left to my own devices as I am at the moment – as I might have mentioned – I am given to introspection, very much of the unwelcome what-am- I-doing-with-my-life variety. I’m stuck, still, in a kind of limbo, without a real job, without any money until next Thursday, without a place I can call my own, without a girlfriend in the same country, without all sorts of things. One thought experiment that keeps cropping up unbidden revolves around what would happen if, should I choose to marry again, a putative mother-in-law peers through her lorgnette at me and asks, witheringly, “And what precisely are your prospects, Mr Lezard?”
So I am much cheered when my old friend the Moose comes round. (He has not, I suspect, really come to see me: he has come to see another old friend of mine, Amel, who has nipped over from Paris for a couple of days.) He also has no money, although that is because the machine ate his bank card. He does have an American Express card, which, as we discover, and as I suspected, is one of the most useless bits of plastic that can burden this unhappy planet, for it is seemingly not accepted by any restaurant within walking distance except the punitively expensive Royal China on Baker Street.
As I toy with my boiled rice, I prick up my ears as the Moose tells us of an interesting wrinkle a writer friend of his has come up with in Paris: he signs rich Americans up for walking tours around his neighbourhood and asks them to pay 250 (euros or dollars; it matters little) for the privilege. That’s each. He takes them here and there, coming up with any old rubbish about the area – it’s near the Odéon, so the details are not exactly obscure – and then, as the Moose puts it, condescends to let them buy him an enormous dinner at the fanciest restaurant he knows. He is, we are assured, very fat and very well off as a result.
This gets me thinking. One of the few pleasant things about my situation is that I live fairly near Baker Street. And it has not escaped my attention that there has been a revival of interest in its best-known resident. Slowly, the rusting cogs of my brain start creaking into action. “Hmm,” I say aloud. “I wonder . . .”
OK, I think you’re beginning to get the idea. Although it sounds rather like hard work, the idea of shepherding ten to 15 wealthy Americans back and forth from the Hovel to Sherlock Mews at 250 smackers a head and telling them that that was where Sir Arthur got Holmes’s first name from – I have no idea whether this is true, or whether the name Sherlock Mews post-dates the detective; maybe a reader can enlighten me – has its attractions.
Like many schemes that are dreamed up on licensed premises, this may prove to be pie in the sky. But, as I go online and contemplate the area of desolation that, once again, is my bank account, I think maybe now is the time to get off my arse and do something for once. Then I would be able to look Lady Strebe-Greebling, or whoever, squarely in the pince-nez and say, “Madam, I am an entrepreneur.”