I was out and about the other day when I met someone who recognised me.
A man in his 50s with a fascinating moustache which curled upwards at both ends and was jet black despite the fact that the hair on top of his head was completely white (how is that possible?) stopped as I passed him on the pavement and raised his hand.
I was initially a little frightened as I thought I was about to be the victim of a violent knife attack and would appear on the front cover of the next day’s Daily Mail (‘Dad-of-two murdered by moustached maniac in brutal roadside attack just near Sainsbury’s;’).
I was about to scream, “don’t do it – I’ve got a family, and I do a lot of charity work too”, when he lowered his hand and said, ‘are you the guy that writes in the paper?’
I always hesitate before answering when asked this, for it might be that I’ve written something they have found offensive and if I say ‘yes, I am the guy that writes in the paper’, they may launch into a lengthy and bitter complaint.
This happened a few years back when a woman stopped me to complain about an article I’d written about my pet cat Percy in which I revealed I’d once gone away for the weekend and forgotten all about him. When I arrived home on the Sunday evening, Percy was lying on his back on the garden path begging for food and water and surrounded by a pile of leaves which he’d carefully rearranged to make out the words SOS. As I approached he let off a flare. It took two bowls of Whiskas, a packet of Dreamies Chicken Treats, and a vigorous belly-rub before he began to forgive me.
Anyway the woman I met after writing this told me I was ‘evil’ and should be locked up – which was a bit embarrassing as I was visiting a garden centre at the time and got some funny looks from other customers browsing the fuchsias. I tried to explain to her that it had been tongue-in-cheek and I had exaggerated the facts – for example, Percy hadn’t really made an SOS sign with the leaves; he was so exhausted and hungry he couldn’t manage the final S, which is probably why nobody came to his aid, I mean who’s going to respond to a sign which reads SO). However, this didn’t appease her at all and she tutted and shook her head at me before stomping off in the direction of the begonias.
So before answering the gentleman with the moustache, I carefully studied his face to see if there were any signs of anger. He seemed calm so I confirmed I was indeed the chap who wrote in the paper.
‘Oh, that’s great,’ he said. ‘I thought it was, but I wasn’t sure because you look much older in real-life than you do in the paper.’
I thanked him profusely for his comment.
‘Reason for asking,’ he said, ‘is because my wife is a huge fan of yours. She has her 60th birthday coming up and I wondered if you’d come and surprise her?’
I looked at him for a moment to see if he was being funny, or if he had been drinking. As far as I could tell he hadn’t.
This was a tricky situation. Clearly it is lovely and flattering that his wife likes the rubbish I write and I’m happy about that. But I have to confess that with the best will in the world I’m not that keen on turning up at the landmark birthday celebration of a complete stranger.
“Erm, that’s very nice of you to offer but I couldn’t possibly intrude,” I answered.
‘No, it’s no problem at all,’ he said, big smile on his face. ‘She’ll be over-the-moon to see you and we’ve got relations here from Australia so they’ll be delighted to meet you too’.
This was getting worse. Not only was I now going to the birthday party of a woman I’d never met but I was meeting her cousin Vinnie from Melbourne too.
“Oh that’s great,” I said, slight desperation in my voice, “but you’ll probably have a house full and I’d only get in the way.”
‘Nonsense’, he replied, ‘it would be an honour. Each week she cuts your column out of the paper and keeps it in a scrapbook’.
I’d now gone from being flattered to feeling slightly alarmed. I mean I’ve never had a stalker before but I’m imagining that is how it starts – one moment a cutting in a scrapbook, the next someone parked outside my house with binoculars and a sawn-off shotgun.
“That’s lovely,” I said, and realised with considerable distress that I had no more excuses I could use and was a beaten man. “I, erm, suppose I could pop in for half an hour and say hello.”
But then, in a moment of inspiration, I suddenly realised a way out.
“When is the party?” I inquired, in a tone of voice intended to sound enthusiastic and excited.
‘It’s Saturday July 6,’ he replied.
I twisted my face into a pained expression, as if I’d just been punched in the gut by a burly assailant, and cried: “Oh I don’t believe it.”
“Of all the days,” I continued, slapping my hands together in mock frustration and leaning heavily on the skills acquired while gaining a C in my GCSE Drama exam (I swear to God it would have been a B had I not forgotten a key line midway through a performance of The Tempest). “It’s my Aunty Lynda’s birthday on July 6 and we’re having a huge party. I’m so sorry, I won’t be able to make it.”
He looked crestfallen. ‘Oh well, it was worth asking,’ he said, before waving farewell and trudging away head bowed, moustache lightly flapping in the breeze.
I suddenly couldn’t help but feel a little guilty, though the guilt was quickly outweighed by the sense of relief that comes with not having to attend the birthday celebrations of a woman I don’t know.
The moral of the story is this –next time someone asks if I’m the chap who writes in the paper, I’m saying ‘no, never heard of him’.
Would birthday celebrations with an adoring stranger have ended well?
Each week she cuts your column out of the paper and keeps it in a scrapbook