Thursday, 11 March 2010

A terrible case of mistaken identity

This is a very unusual post; unusual in the sense that it is all about me. I won’t hold it against you if you decide, after a paragraph or so, to wander off to put the kettle on and grab some chocolate biscuits.

I think I may already have mentioned to you, somewhere in this humble blog, that the good people of my little town are a friendly and pleasant bunch. Not long after I arrived here I noticed that people would smile and nod as I passed by, so I would, of course, return the compliment. On one occasion I was even waved to by the occupant of a passing car and, once again, felt bound to reciprocate. It seemed to make all those years of working in a potentially dangerous job - where people, although they did not perhaps actively seek to kill you, wanted you dead through some unspecified but effective means - worthwhile.

But then something happened. I was mooching about the town - Church Street, I fancy it was - when a middle-aged chap walking towards me smiled and said, ‘Hello, Pete.’ I did my usual brief nod and smile in return, and then suddenly realised what had happened. He had called me Pete. Why? Was he a theatrical mind-reader who had decided to take a stab at guessing my first name? Did I perhaps look more like a Pete than a Chris? Had I simply misheard? Anyway, the moment passed, and I though no more about it.

Then it happened a couple more times. And a lady flashed me a smile of rather greater warmth than one might expect of a stranger passing another stranger in the street.

Then one day, quite by chance, I came across my doppelganger. It was in my local pub. We’d popped in for a drink and something to eat, and there, propping up the bar, was Pete. His hair was about the same length as mine, he had a similar beard and similar glasses (or ‘spartacles’ in Sussex dialect), but his skin was a little darker in complexion than mine. Probably something to do with a lifetime of living on the coast. I could understand why people had confused us upon seeing us separately, but put us together and the differences would be blindingly obvious. For a brief moment we glanced in each others’ direction and exchanged the usual nod. I suspected that one or other of his companions had advised him that there was a stranger in town and that the stranger bore a passing resemblance to himself.

Sadly, my similarity in appearance to Pete has not resulted in any benefit to me. No-one has offered me a drink when I walk into the pub. No-one has pressed a note into my hand, saying, ‘here’s that fifty quid I owe you, Pete’. But equally, nobody has said, ‘when are you going to repay that money you owe me, Pete?’ so I suppose I should be grateful.

Only last week I was standing at the counter of the local bathroom tile emporium, waiting, not surprisingly, for a quote on some bathroom tiles. There was one other person in the place - a builder, I suspected. ‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, but has anyone ever told you that you look like Pete? Only I saw you outside Morrison’s last week and nearly tapped you on the shoulder. It’s the hair, you see.’

It’s The Hair. Yes. The Hair. Another potential source of embarassment. No; I’m lying. An actual source of embarassment. Around a month ago, I was wandering around Morrisons (I do plenty of wandering; early retirement and a desire to escape the decorating that needs doing) and paused to peruse a shelf laden with pickles, chutneys and spices of the East. Then, quite unexpectedly, I was mildly jostled by a gentleman shelf-filler.

‘Oops! Sorry, madam!’ he said, then hastily corrected himself. ‘I mean sir!’ and that was it. Not only was I someone else; I was apparently someone else and a woman as well. With a beard. I went home and regaled Mrs. H with this tale, and she professed herself much amused by this case of mistaken gender, then she boxed my ears and told me to get on with the decorating. It has also just come to mind that, last December, I was sitting in a restaurant in Ruislip with Mrs. H and my mother (also Mrs. H, but I didn’t want to cause confusion) when the waitress popped her head round the corner of the booth and said, ‘Have you ladies decided what you’re having yet?’

It happened again yesterday. I live in an area where water is metered. The little meter sits at the bottom of a hobbit-hole just outside my front gate and, being a ‘retentive’ sort, it is my habit to lift up the inspection cover from time to time and check, with a torch, how much water I have used. As I was hunched over the hole, trying to read the tiny figures on the display, a female voice said:

‘What a clever young lady you are, to be able to do that.’

I looked up and found that the remark had been made by a pleasant-looking middle-aged lady. Seeing that I was, in fact, a man, she lost nothing of her composure. She merely stated:

‘Oh. You’re a man. I thought you were a girl. It’s the hair.’

It’s The Hair. Later that evening I told Mrs. H of my encounter. She likened the incident to the conclusion of the 1973 film Don’t Look Now, where Donald Sutherland confronts what he believes to be a child in a red duffle-coat, only to discover that it is a grotesque dwarf who stabs him to death.

I wasn’t quite sure how to take that.


Madame DeFarge said...

Just how much hair can one man have? Shouldn't you share it with those less fortunate than yourself?

Helen Smith said...

Very funny and interesting and odd. I do like the sound of the unapologetic woman who mistook you for a girl.

rallentanda said...

There are a few solutions to this problem.
1. You could go for the skin head look
2.You could get 'I'm a bloke'
printed on all of your t shirts
3.Take your Aussie Mrs out with you.(I knew she was, after you mentioned about the ear boxing.)
No one will ever call you a sheila
ever again.Except you should be warned that no one in the village will probably ever speak to you again either.
You have good words there.
'spartacles' I love.

chris hale said...

MDF - I'm thinking of carrying a hair donor's card: 'I want someone to have my quiff after I'm dead'.

Helen - Yes! I think she might be a feature character in 'Pardon my Jaguar' or the spin-off 'Whoops! Mind me ocelot'.

Rallentanda - Sound and sage advice as always! But Mrs. H is English, not Australian; although I believe she did watch The Sundowners once.

PS "I'm Spartacles!"

Derrick said...

Hi Pete,

At the risk of being dull (me, not you) have you thought about getting it cut?! I can sympathise with the idea that, after a lifetime of regulation haircuts, you are enjoying the opportunity to let your locks grow freely - but there are limits - and decorum.

Ivy Black said...

What about a big hat, Madam...I mean Pete...sorry Chris?! Puts me in mind of an incident when my friend and I were shopping in a supermarket. An elderly lady asked my friend if she would reach and get a tin for her which she did.
'Oh, thank you. You are a good lad.'
My mate was six months pregnant!


chris hale said...

Derrick - I think I'm probably coming to the end of my Late Onset Rebellion phase. Expect to see me with a Regulation No.1 any time soon!

Ivy - I do have a fairly large collection of hats; perhaps I shall take to sporting one of them, pre-tonsure. Liked the story - I'm glad to say that no-one has taken me for a prehnant woman. Not yet, anyway.

rallentanda said...

I couldn't resist spartacles so I put it in my poem for this week
Hope you don't mind.

chris hale said...

Rallentanda - No indeed! And I have already commented upon your latest poem in your esteemed blog. And thank you for following me.

rallentanda said...

'and the trellis waits'
Hmmm..a bit mysterious.
Your poem is very good.I'm waiting for the other two contestants to submit their poems and then I will put mine on.Thankyou for participating with such good work .I'm much better at poetry than I am at prose but you're good at both.
If those sussexpistols keep on giving you a hard time about your hair let me know and I'll come over and sort'em for ya with some
torture poetry!

chris hale said...

Rallentanda - Oh yes. The trellis definitely waits...

I have to admit that, like most, I haven't produced any poetry since I was at school, but now I've started I must say I rather enjoy it.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Having recently had the honour of seeing both you and Pete in the same pub, I think I might start kicking around with him as he looks like he might be more fun.

No! I jest!

When I was in my 20s, a lady came uo to me and said 'You look just like that man on the telly'. I thought, 'Hmmm ... Magnum PI? One of the Dukes of Hazzard maybe?' So I asked who. 'That Frankie Howerd', she said before adjusting her bottle-bottom specs.


chris hale said...

Stevyn - I remember you when you were in your twenties. How anyone, even with pebble glasses, could confuse you with Frankie Howerd is, quite frankly, beyond me. Now, if she'd said Joan Sims I'd have understood...