This is a true story.
There was a time in my life when 10.00 at night often meant being in a pub with friends. I’m not saying I was an alcoholic, but I will admit to the young man’s game of “going out”.
These days I’ve climbed the summit of a half century of years and I’m now skiing down the slope on the other side. And 10.00 at night has a different meaning. It generally means staying in with a nice single malt and the peerless company of my wonderful lady wife. Beers and curries have been replaced by a crafty nightcap and a decent widescreen telly.
That’s why I wasn’t really ready for the urgent knocking on the door at 10.00 yesterday evening. It was pitch black outside. The Mem had retired early with her kindle and a murder mystery set in Venice. I was in PJ’s, dressing gown and furry moccasin slippers. I’d cued up the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I was looking forward to an evening of Tyrion Lannister’s impish sarcasm and the delight of the Northern lass with ginger hair saying “Jon Snoooow”.
Knock, knock, knock on the door.
Should I answer it or ignore it? It is too late for door-steppers selling us vacuum cleaners or their version of the bloke who may or may not be upstairs. Our neighbours never knock this late.
It might be nothing or it might be a serious something. A very serious something.
So I open the door in my pjs and dressing gown. That is, I am wearing pjs and a dressing gown while opening the door. I don’t have a door in my pjs and dressing gown. The English language can be such a minefield, can’t it?
There is a youngish man standing there. Now, you have to appreciate that anyone who isn’t retired looks like a young person to me. I’d say mid twenties, slender build, floppy hair, casually attired, speaking with an Oirish accent and as relaxed as a newt.
“Ah, bless you sir, bless you. I was wondering if I could use your phone?” he says, waving a very large mobile phone at me.
He stares at the phone in surprise as if seeing it for the first time. “This? No power. Dead. You see I was with some friends and they abandoned me and now I don’t know where we’re going. Or where I am.”
Your mind races at a time like this. The pragmatic and calculating side of your brain is on high alert. We’re at DEFCON 3. Is this young man about to assault me or try to pull some clever confidence trick?
But the emotional and social side of your noggin is saying that it might be genuine. I ought to try to help.
On this occasion, the social side wins. We chat for a while and then I lend him my landline phone. I’m not letting him in the house. I stand at the threshold and he’s outside.
His first call is to his friends. The ones who have abandoned him. There’s no answer, so he phones his Mum.
“Hello Mum, it’s me. I’ve lost me friends. You don’t happen to know where I am, do yer? I don’t think I’m in Hull any more.”
Hull is more than 200 miles away.
“You’re in Godalming,” I say.
“Godalming?” This seems to be as much of a surprise to him as the existence of his non-functioning phone.
“Godalming. In Surrey.”
There is one of those awkward pauses. I don’t know how to help him find his friends and he is digesting the life-altering concept of being in Godalming.
“It’s okay, Mum,” he says into the phone. “This very nice man is helping me. Bye.”
He hands me back my phone. “So we’re in Godalming, are we?”
Just then the phone rings again. I answer it. An Irish lady’s voice says: “David, is that you?”
I hand him the phone again. “It’s your Mum.”
He takes the phone. “No, Mum. I’m all right. This very helpful man is helping me out. I’ll be okay.”
“Where do you live?” I ask.
He thinks about this for a little while. “Farncombe. I live in Farncombe.”
Aha. Now we’re getting somewhere. Farncombe is less than half a mile away as the drunk staggers, and conveniently it’s all downhill from here. I give him directions to Farncombe.
“You are a very good man!” he says as he departs. “A hero amongst men. One day they will write songs about you.”
My friends, there is something magical about a stranger with an Irish accent telling you that people will write songs about you. While you are wearing PJs, a dressing gown and furry moccasin slippers. It’s almost as magical as the ginger lass with a crush on “John Snooow”.
Barely five minutes later the doorbell rings.
I’m expecting my night-time visitor again, but no. There are two policeman on my doorstep. They want to know about my new friend, whether he had been threatening or tried to slip past me into the house. I tell them the story. I said I thought he was genuine.
I later find out that he had already tried knocking on the door of one of my neighbours. The neighbour had been a bit freaked out by this and he called the police.
The story leaves me with a puzzle. Was he genuinely lost and confused? Or was there some scam or trick behind it all? These days we are all on our guard for the unscrupulous trying to con us out of our hard-earned.
I like to believe his story. In these difficult times, it’s heartening to think of a bloke getting royally ratted and being confused about the difference between Hull and Godalming.
Besides, I have to believe his story if I’m going to have people writing songs about me.