What’s your number? This is not the same as a chosen ‘lucky’ number. For years I thought mine was seven and incorporated it in anything, such as lottery numbers, that I felt needed some help from a number that belonged to me and half the world. My mother, back in the Sixties, flower arranging, came home from one seminal class and announced that flowers were utterly unbearable unless they were arranged in fives or threes. No one was brave enough to suggest tens or sixes, or, good grief, eighteens or thirties. Thirty flowers, are you insane? I am sure you have followed the dictates of the planting police, even if sane with certificates to prove it, and buried your flowering bulbs in odd numbers.
Allowing for all these stringent mathematical considerations, it took me some time, a lifetime so far, to realise my number is two. Things in my life happen in twos. Having jumped to this conclusion at glacial speed, I have now started putting plant pots on the drive in twos. One big ‘un, one little ‘un, and I have to say, feel very much better for it.
So I was not surprised last week when two cases of mistaken identity followed hot on each other’s heels. They felt exactly right, given that they were very exactly wrong.
The first happened to me. I had a dentist’s appointment, planned for months, which at the last minute had to be given over to ascertaining whether the tooth that was so painful I was quite ready to apply the pliers and pull, was abscessed or just the result of grinding due to the usual family difficulties. An X-Ray having proved the latter, as I was in the next big town with a large clothing Marks and Spencer available and my parking ticket a two hour one, in case of dental awfulness, I headed cheerfully on foot up the main street. I was after pyjamas; having lost half a stone, mine were actually dropping off my lower half every time I stood up, which can prove quite tricky with the postman early in the AM. Having purchased two pairs of pyjama shorts and pushed the boat out to include two tops, all in one size smaller than inhabited in the previous twenty years, (this is swanking, but true), I headed back down the street, on my way passing the Victorian Gothic town hall. A new sign on the pavement, pointing inside, declared a Covid pop-up Post Office, in the building. In my handbag I was carrying a card I had made to cheer up the reason for the tooth grinding (one woman charm offensive that I am), so I turned left and began to climb the impressive flight of be-pillared stone steps leading up to the town hall. I was wearing smart trousers and my newish jumper and carrying a large green plastic Marks and Spencer clothing bag and my handbag and also wearing my sunglasses, a mask, and my blue nitrile gloves. I thought I looked like ordinary me, out shopping, but opinions, apparently, were divided. At the top of the steps stood the lady mayor, in full rig. Smart suit, long black robes, huge gold chain big enough to moor an ocean liner, and effusive smile. She held out her hand.
‘Hello!’ she gushed, ‘How absolutely wonderful to meet you! Utterly delightful. We are so pleased you’ve come here today, it’s wonderful!’
I know I’ve written a blog for eleven years but I don’t think anybody knows about it except you. Almost certainly probably not the mayor of the next town.
Nonplussed I muttered through my mask, eloquence on wheels, as usual, ‘Um, I’ve just come to post a letter.’
I gestured towards the sign behind her that was helpfully indicating: Post Office. This Way.
The lady Mayor withdrew her extended hand, squinted at me and repeated, ‘Delightful,’ though, to be fair, her tone was wavering slightly.
We stood and looked at each other, me in my natural position in life, short, carrying stuff, one step down, her, tall, naturally wavy fair hair, slim, in a suit, wearing a gold hawser, with medallions, one step up. Seasons passed, leaves blew off trees, snow came and went, pages floated off calendars, dinosaurs roamed the earth and then, didn’t.
Behind me a commotion as a short lady bearing a large camera and a clip board arrived on the bottom step and began issuing orders: ‘Mayor, hello, can you stand there please, and we’ll have the Guides half on this level and half on that, third step, I think.’
Without blinking the mayor stepped round me and down, going: ‘Hello! absolutely wonderful to meet you! Thank you so much for coming!’
Chucked aside like yesterday’s underpants I processed up the last step, into the town hall, stopping briefly at the cobbled-together Covid-safe desk with wire screen, to give my name, telephone number, blood group, dates of jabs, contact tracing details, shoe size and voting preferences and thence along the corridor into the even-more cobbled together Post Office, which was another wire screen on goldish legs, a coffee table from somewhere, a pair of brass scales and two large men in shirt sleeves.
‘I just want to post a letter,’ I said, proffering it.
‘Oh, dunno. Do we do letters, Brian?’
‘Yer. Put it in a bag, I spose. That un.’
I handed it over and left, on my way out inching sideways down the Town Hall steps to avoid being included in the photograph of several dozen children and the lady mayor, still smiling, slightly insanely.
Amazingly the letter arrived, two days later.
The second case of mistaken identity occurred to a friend, whose weekly phone call was much enlivened by the story.
My friend, who I’ll call L, has a friend they all call Chaos Kate, though she probably wasn’t christened that.
Chaos Kate, turning sixty, fed up with all the Covid restrictions, decided to have a very large party, hired a marquee and sent out 300 invitations.
L received hers, and, despite reservations about that many people in one place at once, and having discovered that a friend with a car had also been invited, consulted her wardrobe. She decided the celebration warranted a brocade dress and a hat and thus attired, was waiting with the huge plate of contributory horsd’oeuvres she had made, as requested by her hostess, at not inconsiderable cost to the guest, nicely arranged on her best serving plate, for her friend’s car. The exact location had not been specified on the invitation, but her friend, having driven around the local countryside frequently, had a good idea of which country lane was likely to be the ideal spot for a hired marquee. Sure enough, some way out of town, up a dirt track, the fencing gave way to a huge marquee in a field with adjacent parking.
They parked, disembarked, retrieved the massive serving platter of horsd’oeuvres and set forth. In the marquee it was plain they were early, so L inquired of the catering staff, who were still laying out the very splendid tables, where to put her gigantic catering contribution.
‘Oh,’ warbled the waitress, ‘It’s not necessary, you know, it’s all catered,’ but she took the platter off L and headed through the far away tent flap with it.
L and her friend were offered glasses of champagne and. sipping cheerfully, began to mingle with the rest of the arriving guests. L inquiring occasionally if anyone had seen Kate, the hostess, though no one had, but, as the crowd swelled, and the marquee was huge that was not surprising.
What was surprising was how their mutual friend Chaos Kate. had managed to organise such a sumptuous occasion. The many long tables, were bedecked with wonderful flower arrangements, with lovely lace and beadwork details, abundant silver cutlery, pristine napery and a little card at each place setting indicating the location of each guest for dinner. L and her friend wandered the marquee, reading labels, occasionally meeting up to see if either had spotted their names, chatting to the other guests and sipping champagne.
This pleasant state of affairs continued for a most enjoyable hour until it became clear that every label had been read without one single familiar name, even misspelled, having been spotted. A quick shufty up and down all the tables confirmed the interesting and indeed, growing, suspicion that there was a strong possibility that they were in the wrong tent.
Leaving as unobtrusively as possible, they were just in time, driving out of the field to pass the bride, in a limo, driving in.
Several hundred yards up the country lane was another field, and another massive marquee. They drew up with a flourish in the mud, and, entering the huge tent found exactly twelve people, one of whom was the hostess in tears.
She was sad because no one had come, including her husband who had a lengthy hospital appointment that weekend. The others hadn’t arrived because there was no RSVP on the invitation, as well as no address. That was a pity because the live music she had booked was there and did indeed prove to be some chap with a guitar far away in the corner of the tent, no doubt banking on subsequent bookings from 300 people.
Sadly the venue had been booked for the whole weekend and my friend L and her friend with the car, anticipating jollity, had booked a nearby hotel for the night but were handily on hand for a repeat performance with the box of tissues the following day, when sadly dwindling numbers drew the weekend-long birthday celebrations to a close.
It is very very sad, this sort of thing. If anyone knows how to get a serving dish back from an unknown caterers, with or without the horsd’oeuvres (which had cost my friend £14 to make), she’d be glad of the information.