I HAD to go to London to judge a cress competition with TV’s Konnie Huq from Blue Peter.
I appreciate that this is an unusual move for a person to make, but what you have to understand is that I am not like you people. I am a much-loved commentator and newspaper columnist who appeared on Channel 5 News once.
In truth, Paul Nuttall, the 40-year-old 60-year-old new leader of UKIP, would be justified in calling me one of the metropolitan elite, right after he had looked up how to spell “metropolitan” in his Collins Junior Illustrated Dictionary.
And I felt the fact that I do not like cress should not disqualify me from judging it. It should not matter that I think cress only exists so that people who like an egg sandwich can think they’re having salad.
So I booked train tickets down to London, and I chose the quiet coach, because life is hard and not long enough to have to listen to people having conversations on their phones about how clever they are for the benefit of the carriage.
Unfortunately, the people in the seats behind me were having a closely-fought wittering contest.
I cannot tell you what they were talking about, as my Cantonese is rusty and, in any case, restricted to items of food, but they were enthusiastic about their many topics of conversation for the entire three-hour journey in a way that was at odds with the concept of the “quiet coach”.
I just wanted to sleep. I had a cold. Besides, I am 45 soon, which renders me technically capable of being referred to as “a local grandad” by rookie reporters in newspapers, and sleeping has become one of my top four favourite leisure activities. But every time I closed my eyes, the thread would be picked up again.
And so, when I arrived at my cress judging session in a London pub, I was not entirely compos mentis. I could have sworn it cost me more than £10 to buy two pints for me and the head judge, but that is clearly impossible.
Anyway, the head judge immediately told me that TV’s Konnie Huq from Blue Peter would not be joining us, and had emailed her cress picks instead. “Oh,” I said, “Ah, well, the important thing is the cress. I am not the sort of person to have my head turned by celebrity.” And then I went to the toilet and kicked a bin.
Joined by the rest of the judges who turned up, I judged an interminable number of pictures of cress, using a set of criteria so esoteric that to the general public it would look as if the panel had just chosen a winner at random.
My cress appreciation obligations fulfilled, I faffed about London for a bit. I saw the sights – some chicken shops, a pigeon, and a Costcutter – and I bought a 65p packet of paper tissues from a newsagent’s for £1.95.
It was time to go home. What I needed was the tranquillity of the Quiet Coach. There was no way, I thought, I would have that couple sitting behind me again. Unless they were coming back at the same time…
I put those thoughts out of my mind and boarded the train. This was promising. There was a bit of bustle as people stowed away their luggage, but conversation was carried out at a volume unlikely to get oneself busted for talking at a silent monastery.
I flumped into my seat and closed my eyes. And then he came. The man who would sit next to me.
He was wearing roughly nine layers of clothing, and proceeded to remove seven of them. Five of those seven hit me as he cast them onto our shared space.
He kept standing up and getting things from the overhead rack throughout the journey, but every time forgot two things. One, that the tray was down. Two, that his shirt was not long enough to conceal his navel.
And so each time he stood up, he would bash his knee against the tray, cry out in pain, wake me, and then expose me to the deep inky blackness of his belly button. I can still see it now.
He even turned the pages of his book loudly, after licking his index finger and thumb with a smack of his lips EVERY TIME.
He was, by far, the noisiest silent person I have ever encountered.
I bet this stuff never happens to TV’s Konnie Huq from Blue Peter.
If you want to make my cress judging worth my while, go here and donate a small amount of money to Children In Need. Or a large amount. Actually a large amount would be better.