Ian McMillan: The evening is reaching a tipping point

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Here I am, just packing up my stuff after giving a talk to a big group of people at a university. It was billed as a “lecture”, but as I said to them, I don’t lecture, I talk or I spout or I gab or I gas. Well, maybe not the latter, in public at least. Anyway, it went well, and I’m about to rush for my train. The books are all back in the bag and the scarf and the coat are on.

I can’t find my glasses. They were here, on the table at the front next to the glass of water. I pat the front of my face and the top of my head in the version of the New Zealand Rugby Haka that all spectacle-wearers adopt when they can’t locate their bins. Not there. Not in my pocket. The person who is going to walk with me to the station to make sure I catch my train is looking anxious because we need to be going soon. So she and the other organisers and the caretaker are deployed on a glasses-hunt; I empty my bag. I pat my head again. I look, for some reason, behind a door that was never opened during my talk and a brush falls out, startling us all. The caretaker, who isn’t in the first flush of youth, is gamely bending over and looking under all the seats in the lecture theatre as though my glasses might have wandered off my face and into the body of the hall to hear what I had to say. His bald and kindly head goes from pale to red to puce and I harbour fears that he might explode. He resurfaces, sweating and giving me a “thumbs down” sign.

The organiser is explaining that we have to be off very soon. I trawl through my bag one last time like a guard at the Lancashire/Yorkshire border crossing looking for people trying to smuggle The Yorkshire Post in. Or out. The evening is reaching a moment of crisis, a tipping point. I need my glasses to make my way in the world. I need to catch the train but I need my glasses for the journey and tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. The evening is rushing towards what the old Mexborough Philosophers called “a nexus of crisis”; in other words, go home and leave the glasses or stay and miss the train.

For some reason, one of the organisers seems to have a padded envelope about her person; “We can post them back in this,” she says triumphantly. “We can write ‘fragile’ on it,” she adds, seeing my worried look.

Then something happens that seems almost unbelievable but I assure you it’s true; a man comes into the room wearing my glasses. He looks a bit like me anyway but he looks more like me with my glasses on. He’s stumbling about and he’s almost bumping into things. “There’s something wrong with my eyes!” he says, apocalyptically, just missing the table at the front of the room.

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with your eyes,” I say, laughing with relief, “they’ve got my glasses on!” He reaches up, pulls my glasses off his head and locates his own in his top pocket and puts them on with one swift movement. It’s a miracle of sorts. He passes me my glasses and the world looks a clearer place.

And the moral: believe that the best will happen and it will!

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