We exist in a ‘climate of fear’ nowadays, so I wouldn’t advise anyone else – particularly children – to talk to random strangers. But people seem to want to talk to me – in supermarket queues, on public transport and even at ‘The Bulldog Bash’ (a annual bike show run by the Hells Angels.) Maybe my non-threatening aura or kindly disposition attracts them. Whatever the reason – as long as we’re in public and they don’t make me feel uncomfortable – I generally respond. You never know what interesting gem you might discover from a casual exchange with the person standing behind you at the checkout.
Last Thursday evening a nattily attired gentleman, carrying a furled umbrella (but – weirdly – no shopping basket), engaged me in conversation in the Homeware aisle of Morrisons. I was there on a mission to source an inexpensive tin-opener that doesn’t turn out to be oxymoronic. I have great difficulty persuading these essential kitchen implements to do the one thing that I ask of them, i.e. open a tin. I’ve tried and tested every design, spent a disproportionate amount of money (for what is, after all, a simple mechanical device) and even purchased a model that promised ‘magic’! Yet, still they fail me. When put under the slightest pressure they crumple and snap. Or the wing nut refuses to turn, leaving me helpless and frustrated.
The latest miracle gadget decided not to co-operate just as I’d reached the critical stage of adding tomatoes to a Bolognese sauce – speed cooking, as usual. Thankful that they were chopped, not plum, I managed to prise the lid wide enough to pour the contents into the mix. Time to source a new (and hopefully improved) version.
I was comparing the various brands in stock when an older man appeared beside me, idly examining spatulas (spatulae?) and cooking timers.
‘Isn’t this marvelous?’ he demanded, drawing my attention to an ordinary potato peeler, ‘simple, yet effective!’
‘It doesn’t open tins, though,’ I replied, rather grumpily.
He responded by asking if I was aware how nutritionally damaged – and damaging – canned food might be. I assured him that, where practicable, I use fresh ingredients, preferably vegetables that I’ve grown myself. We went on to discuss gardening; this month’s disappointing weather, the presence of undetected toxins in the soil and their harmful effects on the food chain. We agreed that so-called ‘civilization’ has divorced human beings from a more natural way of life and this led to other topics – work, the stress it can cause and how to minimise the detrimental effects of mobile phone and computer usage. I found myself telling him about my writing (including this) and my various art forms. He shared that he was a researcher, owned a motorcycle and lived in a house with ornate papier-mache doors. He gave me his email address, (I didn’t reciprocate) and recommended a book he thought might interest me.
When his discourse began to stray into the cause and effect of global financial meltdown and the subsequent survival (or otherwise) of humanity, I made a move to continue my shopping before the store closed. He asked for my first name, telling me that his was ‘William’. Then, giving a Wonka-esque flourish with his umbrella, he declared, ‘We may meet again, someday – who knows?’ As he backed away, he pointed to two tin openers that I’d absent-mindedly dropped into my trolley adding, ‘buy the cheaper one, and when it breaks throw it away. Take it as a sign that you should only use fresh, organic produce, not tins!’
Smiling, I agreed and turned to replace the more expensive one on the rack. When I looked back he’d vanished into thin air – as if by magic!
I’d been off-kilter and lacking energy for some time, but this chance encounter lifted my mood and I began to feel more like my ‘old’ self than I have in months. As I related my (embellished) tale to The Artist later, I could feel silly laughter bubbling up inside me, just like it used to.
It wasn’t until I’d unpacked my shopping that I realized it was Midsummer Eve, a night traditionally associated with other-worldly enchantments and mischievous spirits. It amused me to think of William as one of the latter – sent by the universe to re-establish my faith in serendipitous, apparently co-incidental occurrences. And I’d like to thank him for that – whoever he might be!
P.S. The tin opener only cost me 48 pence and it works……so far!