Monday, 5 September 2016

Rare Lunchtime Encounters.

Last week in Uttoxeter I was sitting on a bench at the bottom of the High Street eating my lunch (a mixed cheese and spring onion sandwich as I recall) when two young men crossed the road and approached me. One of them said, in a seemingly forced and overly jovial manner, ‘Is there room for a little one on there?’ Something about his mannerisms made me suspicious, and I usually trust my suspicion because my perception of mannerisms is very highly tuned. Nevertheless, I moved to the end of the bench to make room.

They both sat down and began to fiddle with things in paper bags, and then the speaker leant over to me and asked ‘Are you enjoying your Bank Holiday Monday?’ My suspicion was heightened. Who ever asks whether you’re enjoying your Bank Holiday Monday unless they’re preparing a sales pitch? A sales pitch was what I was expecting, so I gave him the standard response: ‘Is it Bank Holiday Monday? I wouldn’t know. I don’t come from this planet.’

I expected a gladiatorial conversation to ensue, in which I would have to explain to him what a tram liner is and hope it proved to be the decisive blow. It usually is if you time it right and leave them no room to manoeuvre (I use different tactics with Mormons, but this guy didn’t have a black suit, an American accent, or a book in his hand.) No contest ensued, however; the young man went quiet and I finished what little was left of my sandwich.

And then something that looked like a scratch card flew out of his hand and landed in my lap, despite the absence of any troublesome wind. ‘Oh look,’ he said, ‘now I’m attacking you. That isn’t very nice, is it?’ He leant across and took the scratch card off my knee, whereupon I regarded them both quizzically, got up and left.

That night the five infections mentioned in an earlier post flared up and I began to feel ill. The following day I felt so rough that I hardly ate a thing all day.  So did I wonder whether I’d been given the ricin-tipped umbrella treatment, or some equivalent, in consequence of my post about Russian tanks? I did, but I couldn’t have been because I’m still here, not unless my immune system is rather more robust than I have a right to expect. In the end I concluded it was just another example of the matrix cracking up. It happens a lot these days, especially in Uttoxeter for some odd reason.

*  *  *

Today’s encounter was different. I was sitting eating my portion of chips at the other end of the High Street this time, on the low brick structure-that-used-to-have-something-on-it-but-doesn’t-any-more. Sitting on the other side was a woman with a little girl of around eight or so.

The little girl was happily playing around said structure, occasionally smiling at me and interspersing her general jollity with sundry remarks aimed at her adult companion. She was quite delightful, so when I’d finished and disposed of the paper and polystyrene receptacles, I went around to the other side and said to the child: ‘Excuse me, young lady. Thank you for your company while I was having my lunch. It was most enjoyable.’

The child regarded me silently with big, luminous eyes while her adult companion smiled, and I thought that on such insignificant occasions does the rare sunbeam of niceness re-assert itself and the god of small things smiles benevolently for once.

After I left I wondered whether such an encounter might have an effect on the little girl’s future perceptions, as seemingly insignificant encounters in childhood sometimes do. And then I wondered whether that effect would be a good or a bad thing. And finally I resigned myself to the fact that I shall never know. And such is life.

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