I am a magnet to the insane
Put me on a bus, in a supermarket queue, at a bar or behind a desk and lunatics will flock to me like rats.
This morning I was accosted on the way to work by an 80-year-old woman, dressed entirely in purple, who claimed to be the daughter of an Egyptian diplomat. I wasn’t totally convinced at first because she had painted her eyebrows on with a purple felt-tip and was carrying six overflowing plastic carrier bags of fur and biscuits.But, of course, I got dragged into a fairly extended conversation as she galloped alongside me, like a loonicorn, while I tried to get to work. During our little tête-à-tête she revealed that she was covered in a blue rash because her doctors were doing secret tests on her immune system and that she was extremely interested in Pamela Churchill-Harriman, Winston Churchill’s socialite daughter-in-law, claiming, “Us party girls have got to keep it on the clock, you see.”
It has always been this way. While at university I worked in a charity shop at the weekends and so spent my days happily ensconced with all the care-in-the-community nut jobs of Leeds with enough money on their bus pass to get to town.
We had a number of regulars who came each week. My favourite was a four-foot-tall woman who would run straight through the shop, into the changing room and wrap herself up in the curtain shouting that her daughter was trying to catch her. I would then spend the next twenty minutes coaxing her out of the curtain with offerings of tea and chocolate Hob Nobs, after which she would regale me with a list of ailments that included schizophrenia, alopecia, haemorrhoids and flat feet.
Not that the lunatics were limited to the customers, of course. Most of the volunteer staff were madder than a sack of bi-polar frogs. Derry, a 45-year-old gay caricature, who wore pink glasses and had an enormous moustache, was a compulsive liar and borderline pervert. According to Derry, he owned shares in a five-thousand-acre goose farm in Canada, but had been gazumped by his evil plotting brother, Michael, out of all the money rightfully owed to him. Luckily he still owned his five-bedroom house in the suburbs of Leeds where he apparently held 24-hour sex parties. I, alas, was never invited. He also walked with a limp, and gave every single member of staff a different explanation for it. Mine was that he was born with a club foot and, at the age of 11, had every single tendon in his leg cut. He was apparently in permanent agony, but bore it like a soldier.
Since moving to London, one of my greatest regrets is that I will probably never again run in to the man I nicknamed "Noddy Osbourne". He had the round, rosy face of Noddy, with the fancy dress approach of Ozzy Osbourne. Permanently found in a greasy bandana and black leather trench coat, wheeling along a shopping basket, he loved women’s clothes almost as much he loved pigeons – and he fed those pot-bellied flying rats every day. I would often spend my lunch hours strolling around the market, chatting to Noddy about his latest sari or dress, throwing scraps of my sandwich to his harem of birds. It was the closest I’ve ever come to Zen-like calm.
Luckily, London is also stiff with mentalists. And most of them seem to be heading my way. I have been hugged by weeping tramps on trains, chased by murderous granddads in their wheelchairs, given Mars bars by religious zealots and cornered by wax-faced women who just want to stroke my lovely hair.
I'm not complaining, though. At least I’m not lonely. Or covered in blue spots.