There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. I alluded to it back in December, in this piece, and have been planning to come back to it. Does this happen to you much, with conversations? Do you start tell a story and then digress, and not get back to what you were talking about? Or do other people do it to you? Ronnie Corbett built a regular comedy sequence out of this, sat on his armchair during episodes of “The Two Ronnies”, saying “But I digress” repeatedly, until eventually he would finish the joke that he had started ten minutes earlier. And there would be no loose ends left to tie up.
I recall a conversation being interrupted over 25 years ago and still wonder what the other person was about to say. He was an old school-friend of my brother’s who became a well-known comedian, actor and TV presenter. I had seen him perform in school productions and at university (his final year at Cambridge was my first year there). Early one Saturday evening in the summer of 1988, when my brother was visiting from Spain, just before his daughter’s second birthday, we were all at the Old Ship pub in Hammersmith. The staff were hurrying us along: back then children were even less welcome in pubs they are now, even in “Beer Gardens”. We were discussing university contemporaries. Just before the barman or landlord said the equivalent of “Ain’t you got no homes to go to?” my brother’s friend asked, “Do you remember Roger Hyams?” I said, “I remember the name” and tried to remember which student productions I might have seen him acting in. “Well,” the soon-to-be famous TV star said. And that was it. We were hurried out of the pub and I never found out what he was going to say next. Over 27 years have passed since then. I suspect it’s played on my mind far more often than on his, but maybe some years from now he’ll get back in touch and say, “1988, August, a pub in Hammersmith; I was going to tell you something …” And he’ll finish the story.
Anyway, back in December, in that piece about “The Pre-op Transsexual in PC World”, I alluded to my favourite quote in Tim Moore’s book “Do not pass Go”, a book that I enjoyed hugely. It’s about the board game Monopoly; it explores the history of the game and the street names used in the UK version. The author travels all over London playing the game at each location named on the board and giving a history of the area. Early on he visits Kings Cross and aims to play at least part of a game of Monopoly with someone who plies their trade in the area, the kind of person who leaves their “business cards” in public phone boxes. He arranges a visit with “a pre-operation transsexual”, £40 for the session. As he explains:
While narrowing my choices I’d instantly dismissed the two post-operational transsexuals, along with the grotesquely butchered shambles implied by the card labelled “1/2 opt”. But now I found myself contemplating the stark reality that in a purely physiological sense, we are all pre-operation transsexuals. And forty quid was forty quid – I might want to get my money’s worth.
I have spoken to a few people who have read the book (and others who didn’t finish it) but none of them remembers this specific part. Something similar happens with “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” – I wrote about it here. (Can you remember either Christopher’s favourite joke, or his favourite book?) The above quote from “Do not pass Go” is on page 29 of my paperback edition, so anyone who read it for 30 minutes should have made it to that paragraph.
“In a purely physiological sense, we are all pre-operation transsexuals”: that’s the quote that has stayed with me from the book, my favourite quote from it. There, that’s one less thing to think about, one less loose end to tie up.