I walk into the newsagent’s and it’s as though I’ve walked into a saloon in Tombstone. The talk in the queue suddenly subsides to silence and the man behind the counter stops mid-anecdote; it seems his language-tap has been turned off suddenly. “Don’t say anything,” somebody says, saying something as they say it and thereby going against their own command, “or he’ll put it in’t Yorkshire Post.” There is nervous laughter. I buy my newspaper and leave. I stand by the door and listen: the chatter begins again. I open the door: it stops. I close the door: it starts. I could keep this going all day but I’ve got things to do and people to see.
Outside the shop a man accosts me. He points to a crisp bag blowing down the pavement and coming to rest next to a half-eaten carton of chips with the chip fork still stuck in. The man leans very close to me, “Put that in The Yorkshire Post!” he says, waving his arm to indicate the litterscape. He turns away and then, like me at the paper shop, comes back because he’s one of those blokes who thinks that if he says things more than once they’ll sink in. He points again at the detritus: “Put that in The Yorkshire Post!” he almost shouts, and then he walks away. I walk towards the café where I’m meeting my mate Iain the Artist. A car slows almost to a halt and a woman winds the window down and puts her thumb up and shouts, “Yorkshire Post!” I raise my hand in greeting, but she’s gone. In the café, almost the same thing happens as happened in the newsagent. As I order my cuppa conversation drops to a murmur. Somebody sitting with their back to me is telling a story loudly but their mate nudges them and indicates me, and the story comes to a premature end.
I decide to wind people up. I get my notebook and pen out. I stare out of the window. I nod and smile, as though something profound and funny has occurred to me that involves the people in the café and the hilarious things they say that can be fodder for my column. I fail to suppress a chortle and I write something down. I put the pen away with a flourish. Then, in a masterstroke, I get the pen out again and write something else down, laughing out loud. Four people pay up and leave. A couple appear to be trying to hide inside their toasted teacakes.
A man comes in. He orders a takeaway coffee and then he sees me and his face lights up. “I’m glad I’ve bumped into you,” he says, “I’ve got a really funny story for your Yorkshire Post thing.” I smile but I’m prepared for the worst. He sits next to me and says, “I saw a chap get off a bus and he’d left his hat on the bus so he says to his mate ‘I’ve left my hat on the bus’ and his mate says ‘Well, at least it wasn’t a tenner’ and the chap who’d left his hat on the bus says ‘No, it was a trilby’.”
The silence is the silence of deep space. The man takes his coffee and says, “I’ll leave that one with you. You can have that. I’ll be expecting royalties, mind you!” and he’s gone. I think I’ll go back to the paper shop. That’ll shut ‘em up.
I wonder what to write about this week?