A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Mistaken identity

Neil Pickford is forced to conclude that there are a lot of good looking blokes walking around.
The other day a Minster visitor asked if I’d ‘caught any more?’
I was confused and, unable to think of a suitable answer, asked what he was talking about.
It turned out that I was a dead ringer for someone he’d met while fishing a few weeks before.
Now I will put my hand on the Bible and swear that I’ve never wielded a fishing rod in anger (or any other emotion) in my life so I couldn’t have been that angler.
He seemed disappointed – clearly my doppelganger was more interesting than the real me.
Then, only the other day, a rather smartly-dressed woman told me she remembered me from school.
I studied her face frantically, trying to recall a name, a memory of anything, but my brain drew a blank.
She was wearing her five decades rather more lightly than I do so her younger self must have looked similar to the person testing me but I eventually had to admit that I just couldn’t place her.
Not unexpectedly she seemed slightly upset by this, as anyone would. An attractive woman finding out she hadn’t remained in someone’s memory for 35 years? How very, very rude of me.
I grovelled, apologised and asked for some clues.
“Don’t you remember? Mrs Jackson’s class, in the science block? You sat next to me and Vivienne?”
Now my memory might be shot full of holes but I’m darn sure I was never taught by a lady of that name. I am pretty convinced that my school didn’t have a science block when I was there, just a room with a few Bunsen burners, and I am absolutely rock-solid certain that I never sat next to any girls in science lessons.
My neighbour was a rather cheesy-smelling boy who wouldn’t play football and drank Lucozade from a Kilner jar at lunchtime. I can’t remember his name.
It turned out that this particular science block was located in Doncaster – a town I’ve never even visited in my life, so I suggested it was another case of mistaken identity and the lady rapidly left the building. I have the feeling she didn’t believe my denials and perhaps suspected I was lying because of some embarrassing moment from my past.
But I obviously did have a youth, even if it was in a completely different part of Britain from that of my mistaken visitor, and I started to wonder if any of my real ‘schoolmates’ would recognise me if they wandered through the Minster doors.
It’s not impossible – despite the horrors of the M1 we still get visitors from my old neck of the woods, but I think I’m fairly safe.
Peering through the blurred telescope of time (there, a nice little metaphor for readers who might otherwise despair of my plodding writing) I can see a few major additions to my good self collected over the thirty-odd years since school: wrinkles, a beard, a two foot ponytail and 112 pounds, to mention but a few. Even my voice changed after an illness a few years ago.
Detecting the haunted and spotty schoolboy of 1973 from my present marvellous patriarchal presence is probably beyond most people.
Having said that, I can’t even remember what most of my fellow pupils looked like back then, so I wouldn’t stand a chance of recognising them today.
In fact, to my shame, I can’t recall even the name of the chap who was hooker in the school rugby teams where I was sentenced to play loose-head prop. This is despite us being arm-locked together for hours, scrumming down every time our useless three-quarters dropped the ball – i.e. every time one of them tried to pass.
I do recall, vividly, the chap whose shoulder was shoved into my right buttock at the same time – it’s not a memory you can easily lose, but even then it’s his angles I remember, not his face. Without a clue, such as a nameplate hanging around his neck, he’d be completely anonymous to me.
Actually if any other members of the class of 66 came into the Minster I really, really hope they wouldn’t recognise me at all.
The old me; seemingly confident and opinionated but frequently angry, shy, locked in on myself and very lonely, hating my school and home town with a passion that still resonates, is not anyone I would want to meet again, or reintroduce to anyone else.
Luckily, some of the key themes of the Christian gospels are forgiveness, growing, encouragement and second chances
Thanks to the people I’ve met over the years who actively put these principles into practice, many of them connected to the Minster, I am not the same person I was only a few years ago.
I’m bloomin’ great now – so accept no inferior substitutes.
First published July 2009

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