I often wonder if I have some magnetic force field operating around me that causes strange things to happen. I admit that I keep a rather low profile locally, since I don’t want hoards of fans queued up at my front door with copies of “In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed” for me to sign. (I prefer they do this in a bookshop, where I won’t be obliged to make them cups of tea.) But low profile or not, I only need to walk a couple of minutes from home before something odd transpires.
For instance, the other week I was heading to the post office when I happened on a busker and her dog. The busker, an Irish woman who seemed to think that I was also Irish (apparently I have an Irish accent), was playing guitar and singing, and the dog, who was wearing a bonnet straight out of a Jane Austen novel, was her devoted sidekick.
I guess I’m a soft touch when it comes to animals, so I put a few coins in the busker’s guitar case, slightly ashamed at the paltry offerings of the locals. Anyway, I got chatting with the woman, who was about to pack up for the day, and somehow from all this I ended up taking on the job of dog minder while she headed off to find a public loo. There I was, sitting on a bench with this dog in a Jane Austen bonnet parking her furry bum on my foot while all and sundry filed past. A few people offered me a friendly smile (I don’t think they were serial killers), including this guy I’d met earlier, who returned to pester me to join some new gym in town when I’d earlier told him that I was happy with the one I already go to – especially since his gym would have cost me double what I now pay.
When the busker returned, I was at last free to do my post office run, afterward heading off to the bank, where, along the way, I ran into an elderly lady I thought I knew from a writers group I’d given a talk to. (By “ran into” I mean on foot, I wasn’t driving.) Turns out it wasn’t her at all, but that didn’t matter, because she invited me to go Scottish dancing in Upminster (which is nowhere near Scotland, by the way). When I explained that I didn’t have a car and, although it sounded like good fun, it would be rather difficult for me to get to, she tried to entice me with tales of men in kilts, suggesting that perhaps I could find out what they wore beneath them. Well, I’d never been so shocked in my life! Okay, maybe I have. I think she just wanted to take me along as some sort of foil, and I probably would have gone, if she’d offered to pay for the taxi.
No sooner had I recovered from this adventure when yet another landed on my doorstep, for just the other day I was running some errands when, in the process of barreling toward the greengrocer’s, I was waylaid by a sweet little old lady with one of those push trolleys. She gave me a big smile and asked if I might offer her my arm so that she could get to a nearby bench to sit down. I saw a couple of old codgers seated there and, although I suspected her intent might be to chat them up rather than rest her elderly bones, I allowed her to borrow my left arm. (She didn’t much care for my right.) There we were, moving along at a snail’s pace and discussing that all-time favourite of English topics, the weather, when suddenly out of the blue she asks me why I think Jesus died.
Well, all I know is that I wanted to buy some of those lovely Spanish peaches before the season was over, therefore I was unable to shed any light on the subject of her query. Undaunted, she continued in what appeared to be a very concerted move to convert me to Christ, or at least drag me into a church. Okay, everyone’s entitled to their own gig and I respect that, but this was getting a bit much, particularly when we got to the bench and she made no effort to let me go – or to sit on the bench she claimed she needed to sit on. By the time she began fiddling in her sleeve for some of those Jesus pamphlets, I’d caught on to what she was about and made my departure before lightning struck me dead.
When I arrived at the greengrocer’s, I got chatting with the cashier and mentioned what had just happened, only to learn that a few days earlier she too had met with the very same elderly lady who had asked for her arm to help her get from point A to point B, only to be given the exact same pitch word for word. The cashier went on to say that a friend of hers had also met with this elderly lady, and so on and so on. Seems she was working the entire street! What bothered the cashier the most (she told me she was raised a full-on Christian, btw), was the degree of sneakiness and dishonesty involved, which she felt gave Christians a bad name. In fact, she didn’t believe the old woman was infirm enough to require assistance at all, and had merely been using this as a ploy. Indeed, we fully expected to see our doddering granny go jogging past the shop at any moment! We both concluded that we would very likely think twice before lending our arms to anyone. As for me personally, I never felt so cheap and used in my life!
The following day I returned to the High Street for a bit of grocery shopping and no, I didn’t see the elderly lady, but I did encounter a group of Native American Indians in full regalia performing tribal song and dance. Having by now learned my lesson, I didn’t stop to chat.
I bet you’re thinking that it’s only my local High Street where all these curious adventures take place, but it seems that no matter where I go, this magnetic force field of mine follows – even in the middle of Central London (or, in this case, beneath it). One night I was on a standing-room only underground train when I and several of my fellow passengers noticed a moth sitting on the handrail (at least it had somewhere to sit). The man near me was discussing with his mates what a moth riding the tube might eat, and I remarked that it was quite likely curry, since the moth was yellow. He agreed as to the logic of my argument, at which point several more people joined in the conversation. We then started taking guesses as to which stop Mr. Moth would get out at. I said Liverpool Street (turns out I was right). After so much speculation on the life of the Central Line moth, we were sorry to see it go, and when it came time for our little group to disband, we did so with tears in our eyes. (Okay, so maybe we didn’t, but we did part fondly.)
You’re probably saying that all this random weirdness must be some eccentric English thing, not a Star Trek-ian force field that has attached itself to me. Well, I’ve got news for you: it isn’t. Just wait till I tell you what happened when I ran into a bunch of Klingons in France!