The Usual Characters
One of my none-fiction writing heroes came to town the other day although I didn’t make the effort to go and see him; partly because £16 a ticket is too rich for my blood, but mostly as he was here to talk about his new film Frank.
Jon Ronson is the author of such works that include Them, The Psychopath Test, and The Men Who Stare at Goats: the latter of which was made into a rubbish film by George Clooney.
Frank is a film loosely based on the life of our local character Frank Sidebottom and as he was a close personal friend, well I once gave him a withering look in a Manchester bar, I’m not sure I can get behind such a liberty-taking fictional pastiche.
For those who do watch the film they might be surprised to know that it is based on a real person who hailed from Timperley in Altrincham. It’s not that he never took his false head off, as I know that at one point he upgraded from papier-mâché to fibreglass, but when he died in 2012 I remember the only picture obituaries could find of the creature that lay within heralded from the seventies. Sidebottom has since been immortalised with a public bronze statue in Timperley.
But despite my film misgivings I hold Ronson’s writing on a pedestal and so as I knew he was in town I went out celebrity hunting. He wasn’t arriving at the interchange. He wasn’t shooting the breeze outside the theatre. And he wasn’t touring our world famous market. He also wasn’t hanging about inside the building society where I went to visit the last bastion of my savings.
They probably expect boring people in there, but as I’ve been keeping up with the local news and had been following the recent robbery I opened up to the woman behind the glass with: “I see you’ve been done over again… for a third time”.
“You’ve been counting?” she retorted.
Well what do you think?
After previously being alarmed upon discovering that their door was no longer locked, when it swept open before me, I’d pressed the woman behind the glass on why they’d given up on the draconian security measures that involved having to negotiate entry through an intercom by answering a riddle. She mumbled something about it not helping on either occasion… I pushed her to be told that the first time they weren’t impeded by the locked door at all as they smashed the window instead. The second time they just knocked first.
I had previously gathered information on the second heist in 2012 after the local paper had reported in stunning detail that “police are unable to say if any cash was stolen”. You would have thought this was preposterous, but then I have come to consider that the local paper’s ethos is that if you have to leave your desk to investigate a story then it isn’t worth investigating.
My own research turned up that the Police had caught all four of them after the staff activated their Smoke Cloak which is a security system that, when activated, fills the building with an impenetrable cloying fog within seconds. I think it’s a fair bet to assume that in that time they couldn’t have got their hands on much more than the rack of leaflets on tax-free ISAs and that, that day, I got away with more money than the robbers did.
I recounted theses details of the previous heists to the woman behind the glass and questioned how this time the felon, No. 3, got away with cash without them deploying their Smoke Cloak. As they’ve been held up so many times now that I also accused the woman of probably sitting there with a trembling finger on the button at all times.
However it turns out that they’re now protected by “Smoke Cloak AND Smart Water,” she boasted proudly.
“Smart Water?” I said.
“Smart Water!” she said.
She turned to her male colleague in the corner looking for conformation: “Smart Water?”
He looked panicked and just rumbled a conversation quelling: “Oooohhh…”
The conversation baton back with her and the “careless talk” penny drooped. She got the hint and uttered: “Aaaahhh…”
“Oh,” said I, after an uncomfortable silence, “Smart Water”.
A third staff voice chimed in from behind that I did sound mightily suspicious.
If I was now planning the fourth heist then my first mistake would have been in that I’d already handed over my passport as they’re still so security conscious with the money these days that the only way to get any out of them is with photo IDs and with space age ultraviolet handwriting. Either that or just putting on a mime act and handing over a note – GIVE ME YOUR MONEY. I HAVE A GUN – just like No. 3 did.
Two grand they gave him to just go away without shooting anybody with his imaginary gun. He straight away jumped in a taxi which took him home. It took Police ten minutes to catch the fool. It shows you how much they value my custom as all they’d give me was five hundred – in cash – which meant I had to run down the high street to deposit it.
As a departed I wished them better luck with the locals. Jon Ronson also wasn’t in the bank when I paid the money in. He also wasn’t shopping in Asda. And he still wasn’t shooting the breeze outside the theatre when I went around for a second pass. Celebrities, eh? They live in a different world to the rest of us.