Time Out’s award winning columnist Michael Hodges has been at it again. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 273 : let your paranoia get the better of you.
It’s him, I’m sure of it. No, it can’t be. But it is. The dark hair and upturned collar, the merciless set to his jaw: it’s the same man who’s been following me around town all morning. Now he’s found me in TK Maxx. He’s lurking over there, between the discounted trousers and the novelty shaving mugs. There can be no doubt.
Or can there? Is someone really hunting me through central London? Or is he just doing what I’m doing: popping into shops, considering buildings, occasionally stopping in front of statues? Yes, but why would he pop into the same shops, consider the same buildings and occasionally stop before the same statues? I leave TK Maxx and run round the corner.
What’s wrong with me? This is ridiculous. I’m on Long Acre on Thursday afternoon and it’s drizzling slightly. No one is following me. I’ve just seen a man a couple of times in and around the West End. It might not even be the same man. Lots of people look just like this – dark coats, dark trousers. I must calm down and steady my nerves.
I know: a cup of coffee. I’ll go into this patisserie. That’s better already, it smells great in here: hot chocolate, pastries and, look, there’s cake. Cake will make me feel better. Yes, I’ll definitely have cake. Wow, this coffee is good. What came over me just then? Silly me! But who’s that reflected in the mirror? Oh God, no! But yes, yes – it’s the man!
There’s no mistaking him — the pitiless eyes, the thin, cruel mouth, the navy holdall crammed with who knows what instruments of torture. Why would a stranger look at me with such loathing and malice? What can I have done to upset him or anyone else? I’m a nice person, after all.
Or am I? That extra bottle of wine that I ordered at the weekend, which didn’t appear on the bill: I said nothing when I paid, even though I knew that the waitress would get in trouble. Maybe even have money docked from her miniscule salary. Now that I think about it, I’m a bit of a shit.
Fleeing the patisserie, I pass the shop where I told a pathetic lie last week. I knew full well that the fiver on the floor in the crisps and biscuits aisle wasn’t mine, but when an assistant picked it up and asked if I had dropped it I said, ‘Ah, yes. I must have.’ And the clothes I have tried on in shops today, knowing full well that if I liked them I’d go home and get them online for half the price? I might as well push people over in the street and take their wallets. In fact, isn’t my whole life a succession of sneaky dealings, acts of bad faith and petty attempts to gain advantage over the rest of the human race? Am I not actually the most unpleasant human being in London outside of the Houses of Parliament?
If so, I’m about to pay for it, because I sense my tormentor is right behind me now. Vengeance is upon me. I cut through a maze of alleyways and then slip into Tottenham Court Road tube station. Think now, stay calm. Don’t use the escalator: people are always getting chased on escalators. Take the spiral staircase down to the platform instead. Good decision. I’m alone now, I can get my breath back. But what’s that? Steps. Implacable, malevolent and quickening steps behind me, and a hot breath on my neck.
I can bear it no longer. Turning round to confront my tormentor, I’m ready to shout ‘Go on! Do it if you must! I deserve it! Go on, shoot! If you don’t, I will! Come on, give me the gun!’
There’s no one there, of course.
Read more of Michael’s many mishaps and malaises