IF one has a talent, as I have, for writing about absolutely nothing, it is to be expected that kind friends, wishing to be complimentary, find themselves walking into an unexpected trap. Many a time when people tell me how much they have enjoyed an article of mine, they cannot, if questioned, remember what it was about. If I am feeling merciful I do not press the point but simply thank them warmly for their praise; and yet I too often want to know what the article was about, since writing about nothing offers infinite possibilities for vagueness, and I am dotty enough as it is. So sometimes I cannot resist the question. Up to now I have not expected a coherent answer and I am extremely surprised when I get one.
Lately, however, an entirely new kind of reader has appeared in my life. Who, not content with forgetting what I have written, simply goes on about amusing little articles I haven't written. ``I so adored your piece on dolphins,'' they say, or ``that terribly funny thing you wrote about brothers.'' Dolphins? Brothers? I have never written a word about either; though thanks for the idea.
It is strange how suddenly I have become a case of mistaken identity. For the confusion as to who I am has spread beyond my literary side. The other day I was accosted by an elderly lady at a dinner party who said she had been told I was going to be there and so, knowing how passionately interested I was in stamps, she had brought her son's latest acquisition to show me. And she produced a mottled-looking stamp, of great antiquity and probably immense value, out of her purse.
Up to a short time ago I always fancied I could fudge my way through a conversation on any topic with the exception of nuclear fission and horse racing, but I had forgotten that philately is also a subject that demands accuracy rather than a flow of jolly clich'es culled from the newspapers or from half listening to one's friends.
Faced with this ardent lady I could only think of the ``penny black'' and I did not feel my views on it would enhance my reputation as the doyen of stamp collectors. So I was forced to tell this misguided being that she was so, and that I knew nothing about stamps except that they did not have enough glue on them these days and kept going up in price, And that, alas, she must be thinking of somebody else.
I also met a man the other day who said he had heard I was a great authority on Proven,cal cooking and he hoped I wouldn't mind if he pumped me for the secret of how to make Rougets a la Proven,cal tasty when you had a wife who didn't like garlic.
Although I am really a notorious hotter-up of fish fingers, and am about the only woman left in England whose culinary skills go no further than frying sausages and scrambling eggs, I plunged in bravely, and assuming the mantle of this unknown Proven,cal cook (for honestly I don't like disappointing people) I said, ``The thing that makes it really tasty, and so few people know about it, is a drop of vanilla essence in the stock.''
During the dumbfounded silence which greeted this announcement, I cleverly dropped a blob of spinach onto the very pretty place mat my hostess had provided for just this eventuality, and by shrieking with dismay I was able to change the subject.
Mistaken identity is never very nice. The person who makes the mistake is embarrassed, as well as afraid he may be going off his head, and the one who ought to be somebody else but isn't, is annoyed that an identity so unique could be muddled with another's. That one's character has become ill-defined is not a happy thought, but I dare say it is good for the soul - that commodity so often in need of humbling - and I am determined not to flinch next time I am accused of being someone else.