It's the stuff of family legend, but I should probably admit that there may be a certain broad element of truth to it. My older brother reminded me of the event recently. A friend of his, who worked in the City (I am talking about London in the early 1960s), spotted me on his habitual route to work one morning. I was stock-still on the crowded platform of a certain Underground station and was looking lost.
The possibility of bumping into anyone you know on the London Underground at the height of the rush hour is statistically miniscule. But there I was. And there he was. Because I had just started work in London, I had only a vague notion about which line I ought to take to my workplace. But he knew.
What made the story lean somewhat toward the apocryphal, however, was that the next morning the same acquaintance spotted me again. I was standing, according to his version, in exactly the same place on the same platform - looking just as lost.
He told my brother later that for a moment he thought I had stayed where I was for 24 hours. But surely this was where his narrative turned fictional. On both occasions he gave me clear directions that meant I arrived with remarkable accuracy at my new place of work.
If this had been an isolated incident, I might plead special causes. I could argue that my commute to work at that time was a horrendous journey from deepest Sussex, lasting well over two hours and involving various means of transport, each with several changes.
I could also observe that I had to leave the house before dawn, and that the previous night I would have reached home just before bedtime. Or even later if I happened to sit at the wrong end of one of the trains that was mysteriously inclined, at a certain junction, to be broken in two, each of its parts heading off in a different direction. No wonder I looked dazed on that Underground platform.
But I must confess: I did have a rather tentative approach to things geographical. There were other, similar occasions when public transport utterly baffled me.
Today I feel no shame in asking anyone for directions. But then I preferred the idea of following my instinct, and my instinct was not as reliable as I supposed. I remember that on my first day at technical college, I followed a girl I guessed was going to the same place. She wasn't.
A year or two after the Underground incident, I was just starting work in Boston. I was there to write about art for a newspaper, and this was to entail frequent trips to New York.
To accomplish this, the efficient delights of the "air shuttle" awaited me. This flying bus would take half the time to go from Boston to the Big Apple than it had taken me to go from my home to London.
In those days, when we didn't have the now- necessary delay of airport security, you simply bought your ticket on the plane. Marvelous! This sort of fuss-free, walk-on travel had not yet reached Britain. How I loved the USA!
That first day in New York went well, and by late afternoon I was at the airport ready to take the shuttle back to Boston. I had been invited to dinner that evening at the residence of a highly regarded dignitary of the organization that owned the newspaper.
On the plane, the voice of the air hostess came over the speakers welcoming us onboard Flight "whatever number it was" to Washington, D.C.
The power of absolute conviction can be extraordinarily persuasive. I thought: "How on earth could she make such a silly mistake? She must be reading the wrong card." It didn't even concern me that no one else on the plane seemed in the least surprised.
"Ah, well," I mused, "that's America for you!"
I paid for my ticket, noticing that it was a few dollars more than the morning flight, but I assumed it was some sort of evening tariff.
The flight went smoothly. After about an hour, I looked down and - since you see what you believe - there was the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House in Boston glinting in the sunset.
It wasn't until I was actually striding across the tarmac to the arrivals lounge that a tiny doubt assailed me. Once in the lounge, this doubt blossomed into ghastly realization: This wasWashington. I had taken the wrong shuttle.
I waited in line at the airline desk, and the man behind it didn't even break into a pitying smile when I shamefacedly said: "I am an idiot Englishman and have taken the wrong shuttle to the wrong city."
Today I wonder what would happen in similar circumstances. Recently, through no fault of my own, I missed a flight and had to wait until the next morning for another one. I was charged twice the original ticket price for the privilege and had to spend the night on a bench.
But back when I rode the wrong shuttle, the airline representative said: "No problem, sir. We'll fly you back to Boston free of charge. It may take a number of hours, but you will be home tonight."
How was that for good customer relations? Or was it Be Kind to Clowns Day?