AS EVER, it was my own fault.
Last week, I worked a late shift which meant I was at large during daylight hours. I took advantage of my not being in work while shops are open to donate a couple of items to charity.
I do not tell you this so that you will garland me for my largesse, but to explain how I came to be carrying a cot mattress in high winds down a busy street.
If you have never carried a cot mattress in high winds, you can simulate the experience by placing a cot mattress against the nearest brick wall, placing your face against the mattress, and then attempting to walk through the wall.
Several passers-by stared at me as I wrestled the mattress into the shop. I assumed at the time it was out of appreciation for an impromptu display of slapstick comedy, but later events were to suggest otherwise.
I get ahead of myself. When I returned to my car, I noted, with some regret, that I had driven through the largest pile of dog dirt this side of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I sighed, and got into the car. “What’s that smell?” asked my companion, a woman of my long acquaintance. I explained. She also expressed some regret for my actions and off we drove.
“I’m going to have to get that cleaned off,” I said, unnecessarily. “We’ll go to that car wash we went to last time.”
“Shame you’re driving, it’s 20% off for women there today,” my companion replied.
“We can easily rectify that,” I said. And I turned into a narrow side street. I performed a 17-point turn and got out of the car. I held my nose. “Oo dwive in and ged the discount. I’ll beat you ad dat buzdop over the woad.”
She drove to the car wash and I popped into a newsagent’s to get the Daily Post. I considered this to be an unremarkable process, the newsagent was on a road I travel down on the bus every day. And the newsagent’s shop itself was one I often used to visit as a teenager when it was a comics shop.
But as I walked down the road I felt slightly intimidated. Things had changed since my youth. Most of the shops were boarded up or shuttered. There were few people about, and those who were looked at me suspiciously, including two men who, when they passed me, sniggered. I was sure much of this was paranoia. It is entirely possible they were sizing me up to see if I was the sort who would respond positively to the offer of a nice cup of tea and crumpets.
However, I surmised it was mostly down to the fact that I was wearing a suit and tie, a sartorial choice associated in those parts very much with The Man.
I hurried to the bus stop and waited. The waiting passengers also stared at me. I was feeling very uncomfortable.
“Look!” I wanted to say, “Yes, these days I live in a more salubrious area, but at heart I am one of you. I was born in Everton. I went to school down the road. I am not The Man, I am a simple newspaper columnist, who occasionally writes satirical articles which are, if anything, mildly critical of The Man.”
But they continued to stare, until their various buses arrived and they departed, and there were just two of us left – me and an old woman. And her bus was coming. She gave me another look as if to say, “This is the only other bus which comes here. Why are you not getting this bus? Are you some sort of weirdo who gets his kicks standing at bus stops?”
Why did I put myself through this humiliation, I thought? I’d saved 80p, tops, by not staying in my car. I’d have paid twice that not to have to do this.
And then, as the old woman shuffled past me to get on the bus, she said to me softly: “I don’t like to say, love, but you’ve got dog shit on your trouser leg.”