In which The Author plays second fiddle
I’m not the best-looking of guys.
That’s hardly a revelation to any of my friends, but those of you who only know me through the Cyberverse might envisage a 5′ 5″, handsome, muscular, dark-haired, rugged, bearded Celtic warrior.
That’s just my radio face.
Back in 1991 a couple of girls came into Blackwell’s and asked if they could take photos of the interior. I cleared it with Hilary (the manager) and they spent ten minutes with an SLR and a video camera while we pretended to be customers. It transpired that they were making a video to attract international students, as part of a Media Studies project. We got chatting once they’d finished filming, and to my surprise they asked me if I’d be interested in recording the voice-over.
‘You’ve got such a lovely Welsh accent,’ one of them added.
I was very flattered and agreed to help them out. I asked them if they wanted it done Richard Burton-style or Dylan Thomas-style. The other asked what the difference was.
I replied, ‘Burton drank vodka, Thomas drank whisky – and it’s your shout.’
Unfortunately, the post-production stage was a few months down the line, and in the interim I was made redundant. Twenty years ago, when you lost touch, it stayed lost.
Another time, working in Dillons, I took a call from a lady named Jane W., who wanted French plays and novels in translation for her Open University course. She teased me when I couldn’t spell the name of one of the authors.
I told her that my degree would have been in Applied Biology and added, ‘I bet you can’t spell deoxyribonucleic, can you?’
She asked me how I’d ended up working there.
I said, ‘Long story.’
So we arranged to meet up and swap stories over coffee when she came to town to collect her books. (Highly unethical, of course, but not technically Fraternisation with the Enemy.)
On a Saturday morning a week or so later, I was sorting out some ordering on the back till upstairs when a female voice said, ‘Are you Steve?’
I turned round and saw a slim, petite, very pretty woman in her late twenties holding a couple of books.
She’d asked for me at the main counter and Laurie had sent her over. We went for coffee and hit it off well, but she already had a boyfriend. And she was blonde, so it wouldn’t have worked. (Laurie fancied her, of course.) But it turned out that our mental impressions of each other had been totally wrong.
When I took over the Account Sales Department from Glenn, I had to phone some of my regular customers several times a week. I often used to wonder what Mandy, Denise, and Mary looked like. I expect they wondered the same thing. We never met face to face, so the mystery remains to this day. One time I was on the phone to a supplier in Abingdon, and the guy on the other end said my voice reminded him of John Humphrys.
I said, ‘No, if you were talking to John Humphrys, I’d have said “It’s precisely nine minutes past eight and we’ve got the Home Secretary in the radio car.”‘ He laughed and Laurie gave me an odd look. Just the latest of many.
I listen to the radio a lot, and am usually surprised when I see a photograph of one of the presenters. They very rarely look anything like I’d envisioned – for example, Eric Robson, who’s presented Gardener’s Question Time for years, is dark-haired and bearded. I’d always pictured him as balding and with a grey moustache. I must admit I was rather disappointed when a picture of another presenter popped up on the BBC website a couple of weeks ago. I’d imagined a rather lovely Indian woman. Never mind.
When I loaned The Routes of English to Ayo, our lecturer, he was very surprised upon seeing the picture of Melvyn Bragg on the back cover. He’d built up a mental picture of the man after listening to In Our Time, and it was way off target. I expect your mental pictures of me are wide of the mark too. As comedian Arthur Smith once said of himself, I’ve got the perfect face for radio.
On the other hand, my brother has the looks of an indie rock-star (albeit a slightly superannuated one). We look nothing alike, and didn’t even we were kids. Having said that, many people think I’m younger than him, so it’s not all bad news.
When I hosted the quiz for the French assistants’ leaving party a few years ago, Phil and his girlfriend came down for the night. I was chatting to the girls before it got underway.
French Sarah said, ‘I thought your brother was coming tonight.’
I said, ‘He’s here – he’s sitting at the corner table.’
She looked absolutely stunned. ‘Was one of you adopted?’
And he pulls the women, too. Not that I’m jealous or anything. When he was younger I used to call him Roger Moore – because he seemed to roger more than his fair share. I’ve always had loads of female friends, but only Sam ever fancied me.
Phil went out with a succession of girls in short order. However, nearly every other woman just ‘likes me as a friend.’ They have done from the early days in the Black Lion, when I first met Maria B., right through to my most recent failure with C—.
There was a short-lived romance with Karen L. (but no sex) before she went completely mental. She’d been going out with Phil before that. Ironically, one evening I went into a backstreet pub in Aberdare and found Phil and Karen in there. We chatted for a while before Karen and I left together. We had quite a kissing session in the street, but nothing more. Phil sent me a text later saying that I’d blown his chance of getting his leg over that night. I just told him, ‘Revenge is sweet!’
Michelle was another of Phil’s hand-me-downs. Gema and I were so pissed neither of us are sure whether we actually did anything. Emma the Australian girl kept her knickers on throughout our brief acquaintance. Last night, Lynne and I arranged to meet up at the White Lion for the band. She was looking particularly fabulous in a great fur hat (I do like a woman in a hat!) She’s beautiful, intelligent, newly-single and – needless to say – completely demented. Well, she would be. I fancy her, after all!
Things got a bit silly while the band was playing. (Sadists, take note: spanking a born-again Christian comes highly recommended – they even turn the other cheek.) I won’t go into any more details, but if I hadn’t been wearing my gloves, Lynne might have left an even more serious bite mark on my right thumb. Apparently her neck is bruised this morning. I had to defend myself somehow, after all. We texted each other earlier on to apologise. I told her she’d have to wear a poloneck for the next few days. I can always live in hope!
But to make things more complicated, Phil was there too. There’s no doubt in my mind that if Lynne was going to go home with either of us, I’d have been the second choice. In the event we went to town and ended up in a pub where it was too loud to talk anyway. I haven’t been into town on a Sunday night for months. I probably won’t do it again for months either. That’s another story.
However, I must confess that my brotherly love is being severely stretched by Phil’s habit of blatantly pinching women from under my nose. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that he’s made a play for C— at some point. After all, they’re both pissheads and frequent the same pubs. It probably wouldn’t make a difference whether he fancied her or not. I don’t know whether he does it deliberately, to spite me for some reason. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised to find his face stuck to Lynne’s in the near future.
Never mind. Naomi from our Creative Writing lecture group thought I was in my early thirties. At least I’ve got youth on my side …