THE sun was shining down on me. Technically it was shining on lots of people around me too, and, I suppose, my half of the globe, but I play the lead role of the story of my life. Probably because Chris Hemsworth was unavailable.
The point is, I was in a good, if slightly sweaty, mood, heading across a courtyard on my way to work, and feeling at the top of my game. Yes, I play my game near the top end of the non-league rankings, but that is irrelevant. I felt I could take anything on – an interview with Donald Trump, Brexit negotiations, a difficult Branston pickle jar lid, anything.
I spotted a family of three generations – grandmother, mother, and two small daughters – bobbling around the courtyard looking both lost and trouble. In a spirit of almost lunatic optimism, they approached a backpack-wearing olive-skinned pedestrian and asked for directions to a nearby office operated by HM Government.
“¿Que?” replied the pedestrian, inevitably. It was obvious that they needed my help, difficult as it is to imagine a situation in which my involvement would improve matters.
I stepped in. “Excuse me, I know where you need to go. See that passage over there, on the left hand side? Just walk through it, and carry on in that direction and it’ll take you to the office.”
I am not sure how much clearer I could have been. You understand those instructions. There was no “take the second right after where t’Dog And Duck used to be and make sure thy ankles are widdershins, or treadle will be put out o’skew… No, wait, not Dog and Duck, t’old Farmer’s Arms” of the sort that I always get when I ask for directions.
They definitely took in the directions I gave them and did not glaze over at all. They headed towards the passage on the left hand side, and I headed towards the passage on the right hand side satisfied that I had done a good turn.
We exited our respective passages at the same time, and I looked down the road proudly at my fledglings. The pride did not last long. The grandmother wanted to turn left, the mother wanted to turn right, and the children were doing rapid laps of the adults.
I had given them a clear two-step itinerary, and somehow both adults had forgotten the second of the two steps. Even I can remember two steps and I’ve only just memorised my mobile phone number.
The worst part of me wanted to leave them to their fates. I owed them nothing. Worse, I had given them something and they had said, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then smashed it up in front of me, before setting fire to my house.
But they had children with them, and there is nothing worse than being lost while in charge of children, and that trumped whatever goonery they had visited upon me. I gritted my teeth and headed towards them.
“Hello, me again,” I said, as if they couldn’t see or remember me. Belt and braces. “Sorry, I should have been more clear,” I lied. I was not sorry and I could not have been more clear.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s just down there. Can you see that building with the big sign on it?” I pointed, extending my index finger further than it had ever been extended.
Their eyes went everywhere apart from where I was pointing.
“Which big sign do you mean?” asked the grandmother, on a road on which there is only one big sign.
I felt I was getting more purchase with the mother. “Can you see it?” I pleaded.
“That one down there?” she said.
“Yes! Brilliant! Well, it’s not that building, it’s the one after it. See? Dead easy.”
They thanked me again and went on their way, following the direction I had pointed out to them. I hung back and watched them as they slowly edged into the distance, getting closer to the building with the big sign, the two girls orbiting the adults like hyperactive moons.
I felt pretty good about myself. I had helped somebody and gone the extra mile to help them again. And given them the correct directions. I felt like a proper grown-up…
And then they turned left before they reached the building with the big sign, and I have no idea where they ended up. They’re probably still looking for that office.
Some people aren’t worth helping.