I’m walking from my car to Tesco to go and buy some chicken dippers… the latest shit food fad in our house – when out of the corner of my eye I see someone walking across the road in my general direction. I look over and see a shortish man, around 5 foot 7, with his shirt off and displaying a muscled torso that suggests heavy martial arts or gymnastic training.
“Hey, mate!” he shouts. “Mate… can I talk to you?”
I sigh inwardly, and stop. He comes up to me and stares intensely into my eyes. He has a very red face, and is sweating profusely. Maybe he’s just done some heavy work on the parallel bars or something.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“Mate, do you know what love is?”
My initial reaction is to want to laugh – this feels like the title of a Cockney Rejects cover version of that famous Foreigner rock ballad.
“I know what it feels like, at any rate. Why do you want to know?”
He frowns. “Well, what do you do if you love someone but you’re not sure they love you as much?”
I’m about to quote the lyrics of a famous Sting song here, but I don’t know this unpredictable hardpan well enough yet and not everyone responds well to the work of the ex-Police frontman. So rather than actually say “if you love someone, set them free “, I suggest that he gives the object of his affection a bit of space.
“YES! That’s just what she said. She wanted more space. You do know what love is!”
He’s smiling now and he introduces himself. His name is Jimmy Reilly. He’s just come back from a court appearance in Hackney. We’re still walking but we’ve come to Tesco now and he has to make a decision – does he want to carry on chatting about affairs of he heart but also commit himself to helping me get some food for the kids’ tea, or does he cut and run. He asks me a few more questions about love, and I try to be honest and not too profound and Zen-poetryesque with my responses. It seems as though he’s about to calm down. Then he remembers that when he was in court he saw his girlfriend and she was just texting on her phone and not watching him at all.
“I don’t know what’s in her head, what she’s thinking.” He frowns again, his face gets redder and he bunches up his muscles, as if he’s he wants to punch the living shit out of something.
I tell him that we can never really know what someone else is thinking and that he probably needs time to work out what he wants and feels because he sounds a bit… heavy. He takes this well and decides that we should be friends. By the way, could I give him some money and also drive him to his new flat which is several miles away. At this point I realise I can do no more to help him and explain about the chicken dippers. I wish him good luck. He tenses his muscles, waves and heads west to the Holloway Road, still unaware that he’s forgotten to put his shirt on.