Sometimes total strangers know us best of all
His wife may not agree, but he has been called an 'angel' and a 'star.'
It's something of a challenge to the modesty of one's self-esteem, but within the space of two weeks I have – without the slightest strategy – been called "an angel" and "a star." Of course one should not lightly accept flattery in whatever form it takes or whatever quarter it arrives from – in this case from complete strangers. When I told my better half that I had been called an angel, she chuckled merrily and with meaning. "Ah," she said, looking at me doubtfully, "like Clarence?"Skip to next paragraph
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Clarence, for the few left in the world who are unfamiliar with that 1947 film "It's a Wonderful Life," was not what you'd expect an angel to look like. George Bailey (as played by a real star known as James Stewart) was at first very unconvinced by Clarence's celestial credentials. But appearances can deceive.
The thing is, getting on to the southbound train, I couldn't get on. Blocking the doorway, and very firmly stuck, was probably the biggest and heaviest trunk that anyone had ever tried to get on to a train. Climbing over it was out of the question. And its owner was neither large nor muscular. In fact she was petite.
"Can I help?" I asked this question partly, of course, out of self-interest (my seat was beyond the blockage) and partly because she was rather obviously in need of help. Well, between us we got the thing moving and finally found a non-obstructive space halfway down the carriage into which it just about slotted.
"Oh," she then exclaimed, "I left my pound coin in the trolley on the platform."
There was plenty of time before the guard would blow his whistle, so I set off along the platform toward the trolley park. I never reached it, because a woman in a smart uniform was heading my way, and she had rescued the coin.
Its owner was happy to see it again, and she was calling a friend on her mobile phone. "I have been helped by an angel," she was saying. "I can imagine him in a long white robe." A rather slow angel, in fact, who, until much later, failed to realize she was referring to him.
On the journey, we chatted for a while. She was leaving Glasgow and going to London to get married. She was from Nigeria, of the Yoruba tribe. She had studied in Lagos and then Aberdeen before moving to Glasgow where her work had been researching the status of tracts of land for prospective builders. She planned to continue her work in London.
After a while her eyelids suggested an early start to her day, and she dozed off. She was beautiful, and although my ignorance of her homeland would fill a book, this much I did know: I had seen in museums traditional Yoruba sculpture, and this young woman's head might have been a model. I was leaving the train at Preston – a long way from London – and she woke just in time for a handshake and expressions of goodwill.
My "star" encounter was much more cursory. But it was, by the law of averages, quite extraordinary.
The converted church at Glasgow University in which, for five performances, I was involved in my first musical, has an audience capacity of less than 200. So fewer than a thousand people actually saw (and heard) our version of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies." Walter, whose production this was, asked me to play a very small, nonsinging part, partly (he explained tactfully) because he needed someone "mature." In the event, I joined surreptitiously in the singing of "Loveland" since Walter had promised that if my voice proved to be a noticeable disaster he would tell me. He didn't.
Anyway, the morning after the final performance, I was walking the dogs along our usual cycle path, and a man was strolling toward us. As we passed, he said: "You were in the show last night! A star!"
The unlikeliness of encountering this compliment-giver out of a city population of more than 700,000 (not allowing for amateur musical-goers from the rest of Scotland) was extreme.
Now I come to think about it – maybe his name was Clarence.