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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

When I met Lisa for lunch yesterday at "the best pub in Brighton" (which on top of not stocking Bacardi, and having to rely on the corner shop for orange juice, is now experiencing a five minute delay on ice cubes), we happened to walk past a woman in St James's Street who looked like she'd come straight out of a horror film. And I don't mean she was the spitting image of Neve Campbell.

It led to an in-depth discussion on the number of lunatics one comes across on the streets of Brighton, and how I've met more dodgy characters (Lisa not included) in one day here than I've encountered in over seven years at Shotley Gate. It turned out to be a prophetic conversation. And not just because of the woman in the fright-wig who we passed two minutes later.

Having delivered Lisa safely back to work, I headed off into town on some important errands. Mostly involving charity shops. And soon wound up at the branch of Barnardos where I bought my fetching Next shirt exactly two weeks ago. They're obviously being supplied by a specialist Next fence, because they had another fine t-shirt (which sadly I can't find on the Next website, hence no photo), this time for only £3.50.

The lower price was obviously to compensate for the ordeal you have to go through to buy it...

Whilst browsing the Barnardos rails, shirt in hand, I was approached by a middle aged woman. I'm not one to judge people on appearances, but she only had two teeth, and was wearing an Easter bonnet. But hey, live and let live, that's what I say. Unless they start to sexually harrass you...

So anyway, this woman's first words to me, as she moved in uncomfortably close, were "I hope you don't mind me saying, but I really like your head". Not the kind of thing you hear every day. I thanked her for the compliment, and tried to pretend she wasn't there. She continued with "It's nice and round. I really like round things, and your head is lovely and round".

I smiled through gritted teeth, and responded with "No one's ever said that to me before". She looked surprised. I considered running. She then moved in for the kill with...

"Can I touch it?"

I suppose I should be grateful she didn't say "I like round things - can I touch your stomach?", but even so, it wasn't the kind of request I felt inclined to agree to. So I attempted to laugh it off. She persisted. I told her we'd only just met. She assured me it wouldn't hurt and she only wanted to feel my head (anyone would think I was being unreasonable here). So I told her my girlfriend would be jealous - a statement which prompted a two minute speech from the woman on how she's not attracted to me sexually, she's not 'after' me, she's been single for many years (big surprise), she's not interested in a relationship, and Lisa has nothing to fear.

To be honest, I felt she was a little too keen to make that point. I'd have been happy with a simple "I can see you're out of my league, and I wouldn't stand a chance", rather than the emphatic way she announced to the entire shop that she didn't fancy me. But you can't have everything.

Fortunately she got distracted at that point by another shopper's skirt, and was forced to interrupt our conversation in order to shout an aggressive compliment at the woman, who was fast disappearing out the door. I was tempted to follow her, but I had a £3.50 Next shirt in my hand, and nothing comes between me and a charity shop bargain.

So I made the most of the diversion, and attempted to head for the till, only to be cut off at the pass by the toothless crone (it's a term of affection), who was a faster mover than she looked. She said "So am I going to get a laugh today?", I considered saying "Only if you look in the mirror", but instead went with "Not from me, no" in a cheery voice.

It didn't go down well. For a moment I thought she was going to hit me. Or worse - fondle my forehead. She asked again, with the kind of expression that said "Either I touch your head, or you die", but fortunately for me, the girl on the till, who had been making some half-hearted attempts to intervene and persuade the woman to leave me alone, finally took matters into her own hands, and in a stern voice said:

"I think you'd better go and work upstairs now". Wherepon the crooked hag disappeared through the door behind the counter.

So after all that, it turns out she worked there. I can only presume she comes across better in interviews.