Why am I surrounded by lunatics? Science is beginning to take the first steps to answering this age old question, with the discovery of a condition known as 'Nutter Proximity Syndrome', although it is still at a loss as to its cause, or any possible treatment.
One theory holds that, due to genetic factors, some people contain biological magnets in their pancreas that tend to attract the eccentric, the crazy, and the raving mad.
I first became aware that I was suffering from Nutter Proximity Syndrome in Screen 4 of the Bristol Showcase on a Saturday afternoon. During the adverts and trailers, the cinema was entirely empty but for myself and an old lady, who was asleep. I relaxed into my seat as the censor's certificate flashed across the screen and the theme music began. Just then, a rupture opened in the fabric of the space/time continuum, and two alien beings materialised in the seats directly behind. They immediately started talking in loud voices about their hot-dogs. I politely ignored them; and concentrated as the violin music faded out and the undertaker began his opening speech. I also ignored the family of three who beamed into the seats on my left and began to make more noise than one would have thought possible with one box of rather overpriced popcorn. But just as Marlon Brando was beginning his reply ('You come to me on my daughters wedding day saying 'Don Corleone give me justice...') two new voices appeared on my right: one high pitched and piercing, one whispered and insistent:
'Mummy, is he a goody or a baddie?'
'I think the film explores that, dear'
All the normal strategies run through my head:
1: 'Excuse me, could you be a little quieter, some of us are trying to watch the movie.'
2: 'Do you intend to talk all the way through the film, or just through the first reel?'
(A projectionist friend of mine informs me that film canisters are now so huge that you can fit a whole film on one reel, and I have, in any case, no idea at all how long a 'reel' lasts, but I like saying it because it makes me sound like a movie buff.)
3: 'Don't you think it is entirely possible that if your kid isn't old enough to read, he isn't old enough to see a film with sub-titles.'
4: 'Shut the hell up or I'll go and get the bloody manager see if I don't.'
Instead, I suffered through the movie, and came out puffing like a Tory that they shouldn't let children and members of the working class into places of public entertainment.
Once I realised that I was not merely unfortunate, but suffering from a syndrome, examples of it started to manifest everywhere. I am sure that I am not the only person to have been visited by a Jehovah's Witless; but I am fairly sure that I am the only one to have had the entire church on my doorstep.
I had listened for over a minute to two women in head-scarves, and then enquired how precisely she knew that the Beast With Ten Heads Coming Out of the Sea represented the European Union. She said that this was the firm opinion of learned men who had spent their lives in the diligent study of the holy scriptures. I asked which learned men in particular. She went away and came back two days later with two men in suits, who explained that the Beast was clearly the E.U because of it's rivalry with the Man With Stars on His Head, who represents America. I asked how they knew that the man was America, and they went away, and came back a week later with a man who I took to be a JW vicar, who leant me a book which explained that Man was clearly America once you realised that the Beast Like a Lion was England. If I hadn't moved house, right now I would be engaged in a discussion with the JW pope.
I am also the only person in England ever to have been evangelised on the doorstep by a fully fledged Marxist—not a member of the British Communist Party, but of the British Marxist Party, who split with Stalin over Trotsky in 1938. He wanted to discuss macro economics with me. I tell you, there is a whole world out there that most of us know nothing about.
My new flat has an entry phone, making me immune from J.Ws and Communists. But my case of N.P.S is so severe that they now come up to me in the street, in the train, on the park. A man on Cambridge-London stopping service once informed me that he had received a Word of Knowledge that I was a fellow Believer. I asked him whether it was the Cross on my lapel or the fact that I was reading the Bible which had given the Almighty the clue? Had I not got out at Tottenham Hale, he would have had me praying in the buffet compartment. There was also a group of total strangers on Tooting Common who wanted me to attend a Bible Study in McDonalds on the subject of the Apostle James' influence in the early church. The best thing to do under these circumstances is violently agree: I assured the three Khaki Clad Jesus Army Freaks that I was delighted that they were running a mission in my area and would certainly be praying for them, and they went away.
Recently, though, things have got completely out of hand.
I was waiting for a train on Victoria Tube Station. The man next to me, short, in a suit, and carrying a sheaf of stapled papers reveals himself to be Japanese by striking up a conversation with me, instead of staring at the computer display board like all good Englishmen should.
'Es Cuse me', he said.
'Er...', I replied, expansively.
'You know. What this. Word means please?'
He is reading a photocopied document about childhood Leukaemia, as one does. It is in English, a relief, since my medical Japanese is limited although I did once give English lessons to an executive in the Yamaha offices in Croydon. He has underlined the offending word, 'antimony', in one of those standard issue luminous yellow felt-tips.
Something in the back of my mind tells me that it 'animony' means 'an apparent paradox arising from the nature of the nature of the empirical universe, as opposed to the structure of language' but I didn't fancy trying to explain that in Japanese. It didn't seem likely that this concept would turn up in an essay on cancer, anyway.
'Something to do with lead poisoning, I think.'
'With. Poisoning of?'
With the essence of one of who has just achieved enlightenment, he pointed to his left knee.
'Ah! Leg poisoning.'
'No. Not leg. Lead. Lead. You know. A heavy metal?'
At this point, the train arrived and we left each others lives forever.
Perhaps some eminent oriental medic will one day explain that his discovery that cancer is often caused by the septic inflammation of the patella was originally the results of a fortuitous mistranslation.
A few days later, I was foolish enough to venture outside my door at 1AM. I was intending to post a letter. I think that one of the side-effects of NPS is that beggars perceive you to be a soft touch. I get greeted with 'Spare a fiver, gov?' or am asked to donate food from my shopping basket on the grounds that I am 'fat enough already.' On this occasion it was a rather well-dressed individual who was running up and down my street in a state of high indignation. He looked on me as if he was in a poorly scripted western and I had just ridden over the hill.
'Can you possibly spare me a couple of quid for a bus fare? Someone's stabbed my dog.' He was indeed holding a large black mongrel. I don't know why I hadn't noticed this before.
'With,' he added helpfully 'A screwdriver.'
There was a patch of exposed skin beneath Fido's fur that could have been a stab wound. It wasn't bleeding. It might have been a canine form of cancer brought on by lead poisoning for all I know. I didn't have any money in my pocket.
'Stay there,' I said, and went back to my flat, picked up a handful of change, and returned. The boy and his dog were a little further down my road, talking to a middle aged a lady who seemed to be ignoring them.
I handed over the money.
'You're a saint,' he said 'An absolute diamond.'
'Do you have a vet?' I asked, helpfully; 'I mean, do you know where there is a vet that you can taken him to.'
'Yes.' he replied 'Not far from here. I can walk it.'
My letter was posted without further incident or expense.
But the most extreme form of Nutter Proximity Syndrome is certainly that experienced on late-night coaches. It is 2AM; you are somewhere between Victoria and Bristol everyone is sprawled out at funny angles, sleeping, pretending to sleep, or trying to sleep. The only exceptions are the seat in front of you, occupied by an Asian lady with a screaming baby, which is arguably not her fault. And, of course, the seat directly behind you, occupied by three women who burst into screeching vulture giggles every 45 seconds. And the seat across the aisle from you, which are occupied by three rugger buggers who discuss, place bets on, and eventually come to blows over the exact time which the coach will get into Bristol. And finally the seat right next to you which is occupied by nothing but a large, loud walkman playing one of those tunes with a beat and nothing else.
Just outside Chippenham Spa, you turn around and say 'Excuse me; could you possibly keep the noise down?'
Everyone else on the entire coach, including the driver, simultaneously wake up, sits up, look at you and say 'Shush!'.
If you are suffering from Nutter Proximity Syndrome, the most likely explanation is that you are the only sane person left in the world