I HAD less time to kill than I thought. As I have aged, I have come to terms with the fact I am unable to judge how heavy things are, or how far away things are, or how long it will take me to complete a task.
I am basically a builder without the ability to make things fit or to intimidate people like me.
Instead of walking I decided to catch a bus to my appointment so I would not be late. This involved traversing Hanover Street at a puffin crossing. The green man appeared in the wrong place – as they do on puffin crossings – and I began to cross.
I became aware of a middle-aged couple standing slightly apart on the other side of the crossing. I corrected my course to avoid bumping into them, but they kept veering into my path too, as if they were attempting to prevent me from scoring a try.
Or a touchdown. They were American. “Excuse me, sir,” said the woman. Her husband hung back a little, accurately sizing up the situation.
No good has ever come of me being addressed as “sir”. I sighed inwardly. “Yes, can I help you?” I asked, as Basil Fawlty might have done.
“Could you tell us how to get to the Philharmonic? We’re a little late,” she asked.
“Really?” I thought. “You’re asking me? Surely all the travel websites should have a warning about approaching me for directions by now?”
As it happened, their luck was in. I was actually going to Hope Street. There was no way they would miss their concert.
“I do! But you should get the bus.”
“We don’t know the city,” she said. “We might get lost.”
“I’m getting the same bus! I’ll take you straight there.”
“Gee,” said the husband, like the American he was, and looking in his wallet. “Will the driver make change?”
“Of course!” I said. “You just stick with me.” For a moment I had a sense of what it must be like to be a sunny optimist.
“Where do you folks hail from?” I asked, easily slipping into their lingo.
“Oh, my friend Heidi is from Chicago. Do you…”
They gave me a hard stare.
“I expect it’s quite a big place,” I said.
And then we got on the bus. I swiped my card, went to sit down, and watched as Mr America pulled a £20 note out of his wallet and attempted to pay for the bus fare. The sunny optimist inside my head remembered a previous appointment and scarpered as the bus driver explained in broad terms that he would definitely not be able to “make change”.
The couple appeared confused and angry. They looked across at me, the smiling architect of their misfortune, and I gave them a small thumbs-up.
Mrs America scrabbled around in her purse, looking for coins of a denomination she did not entirely understand. I felt responsible. They were visitors to my city, and I had strong-armed them onto the bus. I had to sort this out.
“Please, allow me,” I said to her. I had a £5 note. Awkwardo The Bus Driver would only have to give me 60p change from that. “No, wait…” she said.
Mr America at this time had left the bus and rejoined the queue at the back. “I’ll get this,” I told him. “No, wait…” he said. “It’s quite all right,” I said, then to the bus driver, “Two £2.20s, please.”
Mrs America walked up to me. “I already have a ticket,” she explained. “Oh,” I said. The driver stared at me. The other passengers wished I were dead.
I dug in my pocket to find change to buy her husband’s ticket, but I was a pound short. “Actually, do you have…?” I said to the wife. She handed me a pound coin.
I gave the husband his ticket and sat down, and said nothing else to them until we reached the correct bus stop. I could see them shaking their heads and conferring quietly all the way there.
I rang the bell and indicated that they should follow me. They were sceptical, but did so, and I led them all the way to the Phil.
“Thank you,” Mrs America said.
“This doesn’t look like a pub,” Mr America said.
“Oh, right, um, you want there,” I said, and I pointed at the Philharmonic pub over the road.
“How do we get back?” Mr America asked.
“Well, you just walk down this hill, and you’ll get right back where we started from.”
“You mean we could have walked?” he asked.
“Well, yes, but I thought you were in a hurry.”
“We are,” he said, and they disappeared off to the pub.