My Stalking Hell
Having read the book Freakonomics I know that, on a base level, humans respond to incentives. I’ve never been an early-adaptor of new technology and for years shied away from mobile phones due to all the hoo-ha over brain tumours, and the like, but all that suddenly changed when factors in my life shifted and I felt I really needed to have a mobile phone with me… Just in case.
A previous mobile I’d had at my disposal, before this, was for professional purposes and was a brick. Not an eighties Yuppie brick, but a brick all the same. This was when as a Postgraduate student in Wales I did periods on-call looking after student problems that arose on a Halls of Residence site with 1500 residents. Even though it was for emergency use only my girlfriend knew when I was on call and used to send me sweet messages, which are lost to digital posterity, but are still engraved on my heart, and all this was all a novel experience… having a girlfriend.
That phone was so old that I spent most of my first week without even realising that the speaker wasn’t even working. Still, much later after university in 2004, girlfriend-less (she married a man from NASA who sends robots to Mars – how could I compete?) and working in Manchester I wasn’t bothered about joining with the in-crowd until, doing a bit of Christmas shopping, I stepped into LUSH: the funky organic soap shop.
At the time, with their freshly-made soap of every smell, colour and flavour, I did assume that they were a local concern and that their plethora of trendy-looking female workers made all of their produce out-back, Fight Club-style, in vats. I can’t remember what I was buying for my Mum, but the single queue led to three tills and as I got near the front one of the girls with shoulder-length brown hair really stuck out. I was infatuated. And as I only got to get served by the girl that randomness and universal chaos dictated I prayed to the Gods of the Tills and, that day, they smiled on me.
Odds of getting the girl on the till: One-in-Three.
It is the only time I claim this, but it was love at first sight, as she short-changed me ten pounds. I do tend to find in life that all the prettiest shop girls to overcharge you.
However I may have been all gooey-eyed, mentally trying to fathom things about her that you really don’t want to know, but I wasn’t that far gone and with the spell broken insisted on my money back. I got it, in much the same level of regret that she was falling prey to a confidence trickster who was pulling some sort of stunt, but I was happy how it only prolonged the conversation.
I came away with my money, a smile on my face, and the realisation that I had to go back… And as soon as possible.
The next day after work I was back. I’d come to the sudden conclusion that, as well as my Mum, that my sister-in-law also wanted hand-made organic soap from me for Christmas. I can’t remember what I got her, it’s not important, but what is important is that the girl was working one of the tills, again, and I was at the mercy of the queue… again. I reacquainted myself with the Gods of the Tills and hoped…
Odds of getting the girl on the till twice: One-in-Nine.
Bingo. And, even better than that, she remembered me.
I’m always surprised when people remember me. Especially as I imagine myself drifting through life, with a Howard Moon pink balloon face, and there was one occasion where I didn’t believe the spiel a shop assistant was giving me so I went off around every other shop in town before coming creeping back a week later to have the same girl jump out on me and said: “You came back then!” Freaked me out that did.
Anyway, back in Lush, I was redeemed in this particular girl’s eyes as she said that when they’d cashed up the previous night the total had been correct and that she had indeed short-changed me. She apologised.
She was great.
I left without my infatuation diminished and the realisation that now everybody was going to get soap off me for Christmas. My main problem, apart from the fact that I was now effectively stalking the girl in LUSH, was that I had a limited list of people who I could realistically buy brightly coloured soap for. I was really scraping the barrel by the fact that next of my list was Big Kev who’d emigrated to downtown Bangkok with his new Thai wife. A Thai wife who was about to benefit from a wrapping paper-themed Christian festival that wasn’t even celebrated in her own country.
I can’t remember what I bought her, it’s really not important, but when I returned there again was the girl, the queue, and the tills… You know the drill by now.
Odds of getting the girl three times in succession: One-in-Twenty-Seven.
I got her again.
The odds were practically astronomical.
It was like fate.
I asked her some stupid questions about the stability of their products, say in a theoretical warmer monsoon-laden climate, and despite expecting cosmetics expertise, from a shop specialising in selling soap, she didn’t seem to have a clue.
Still, I came out with a smile on my face and an imminent airmail postage bill that would equal the cost of the expensive soap I’d just purchased. I can’t remember if Big Kev and his wife appreciated it, or if it even arrived, but it’s not important. What is important is that I’d come to the staggering realisation that I had to go back in just to ask this girl out. Only, how do you do that without a phone number to give?
And so despite my idealism, and the notion that I could live without one, I went and bought a phone. Nothing fancy, but there you go. The number of girls I’ve asked out in my life you can count on one hand, so don’t count this action too lightly, but the next time I returned to LUSH I had absolutely no intention of buying any expensive multi-coloured organic glittery bath products.
Unfortunately I found that, for once, the girl wasn’t in. It was quiet and instead there was only a highly tattooed redhead co-worker, to whom I must have clumsily explained the situation (above) in less than fifty words, and the tattooed redhead told me that she didn’t think that the girl was single.
I never went back.
I figured, much later, that they’d probably say that to all the weirdoes who come in off the street.
And so my stalking career ended, without victim.
Although, saying that, my definition of real stalking is when you’re the first and last thing she sees every day from her window, lurking in her garden, with a dirty butter knife under your coat. I know that’s not a legal definition, but I’d like to think from anyone reading this that my (romantic?) actions (above) would pass the taste test.
You tell me.
And if you just happen to know Jenny who worked in the Manchester Lush, in December 2004, then you can tell her that I bloody loved her… I’m bet she’d be gutted.
Odds of that being true: Long shot, hundred-to-one odds… and then some.
I have recently bought a new phone. No great life-changing story this time. True it sort-of coincidentally coincided with me almost meeting up with American girl No. 02, but over the years I had used the original to destruction.
I found that I ended up only putting half the numbers into it that were in the old one. That’s fifty-percent natural wastage… Or a “Contacts” half-life of the lifetime of a phone… The clincher in finally choosing this model was that it was a bit cheap, as befits my self-imposed austerity-lifestyle of a writer who’s earning no money, but as it bonus it came with a camera. Now I’ll never be caught short with the opportunity to give girls my number, or the ability to take low-grade Paparazzi zoom-lens photos from half a meter away. Although the taking of such a photo would turn out to be my downfall.
In my time I reckoned I must have become the premiere blogger in the local area, detailing the goings on of local characters, although I don’t seem to have made too much of a splash as I seem to have been able to write about the local people without recourse. To be honest I don’t think they’ve been looking: neither the blonde checkout girl in Tesco who was studying for a law degree, nor the Lancashire accented librarian girl, and not any of the odd customers in Costa Coffee, or the tramps who I’ve documented and occasionally tailed around the frozen aisles of supermarkets.
I was almost disappointed.
But then in describing the LUSH incident I did wonder if, in describing that out loud on the internet, as to whether it might sound, to the casual observer, a teensy bit… odd, as apposed to a natural part of the modern human mating process. Thankfully my female readership sprang to me defence of this account with comments of:
“Completely weird, and completely sweet.”
“On the ‘stalker’ scale you’d hardly register at all.”
“You’re somewhere between ‘innocent bystander’ and ‘that guy who once said hello on the downtown bus.’”
Which all sounds reassuring. And then some time later I received a communication from someone called Jenny McAllister who informed me: “This is brilliant.”
Exactly as I’d hoped. But then she continued:
“It is made even more brilliant by the fact that I’m the manager of Lush Manchester Market Street.”
I’d been fingered. She’d been looking on the internet for pictures of her shop and found mine which I’d taken especially to illustrate my LUSH story. She found the picture and followed it to my blog. One of my posts had finally been discovered by the local community, and unfortunately it was probably one of the dodgier ones.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve just shared it on our online staff room, and I’m sure that everyone will enjoy reading it.”
She did. I got quite a lot of hits. And I possibly became a figure of fun, a cautionary tale, and a DO NOT SERVE THIS MAN poster on the wall by the till all in one go.
“There are two of us called Jenny at the shop, but I’m pretty certain that neither of us is the object of your affections. Anyway, please come and buy more soap and say hello.”
Now I’ve heard of various Police stings where hapless criminals turn up to claim their fabulous prize, and get nabbed instead, and so I haven’t dared show my face at LUSH since. Just in case. I’ve even less reason now that we don’t have a bath.
I never found my love at first sight girl called Jenny.
I was single then and I still am now. Another markers I have is the 2003 train ticket to Derby from when my girlfriend broke up with me. I’ve now just cleared a solid decade. Ouch.
In my more affluent days, when I used to work in Manchester, I was topping up that stalking phone monthly. Give or take. After a year of its camera-laden replacement a measure of how much of a hermit I’ve become is that in all that time I don’t think I’ve topped it up once. So it appears that all signs are pointing in one direction.
And I remember that I once was able to frighten off someone who rang me up to try and sell me a contract, and got them to never bother me again, with just two words. Two. Well why use a thousand when just two will suffice?
The list of people that I share my birthday with includes John Lennon, Brian Blessed, Steve McQueen, and our Prime Minister David Cameron… All the creatives. Surely there’s not a fag-paper between our characters and I’d like to think that we’re living proof for the scientific veracity of astrology.
Not only was it a shock to discover that David Cameron shares my birthday but even more so that, to the day, he is exactly ten years older than me. I therefore have a yardstick set for my success and if I’ve not wrestled control of a major political party by the age of thirty-five, or seized the reigns of the country within a decade or so, then I’m clearly been a failure in life.
I fear I’m in a life tailspin and it’s downhill all the way from hereon in. Although all hope is not lost in keeping up with my famous cosmic twins as, on the flipside, within a few years of my age John Lennon went on to find himself unexpectedly dead. So at least I’ve got options. I may be sitting in the gutter, but you can’t say I’m not looking up at the stars.
And if you were wondering what the two words were, how I politely got the phone marketers to stop calling me at work, bothering me on my mobile, and to never ring back again? Well when they asked me the leading question of how much money do I top my phone up every week I gave my answer with incredulity: “A week?!?”
Even they wrote me off, then and there, as they hung up on me and never called back.