Time Out’s award winning columnist Michael Hodges has been at it again. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 459: pretend to know people.
You’re at a party, stealing food. ‘Hello there!’ someone shouts cheerfully. You turn around to find a man and a woman and almost drop the quiche you were lifting. They are the most attractive couple you’ve ever encountered. One is an astonishingly good-looking blond with perfect skin and a remarkably happy face. And the woman isn’t bad, either – a startlingly chic brunette with a ravishing smile who gives off clouds of expensive scent. In fact, everything about these two is expensive. They have £100 haircuts and £200 shoes; their clothes ripple with luxurious stylishness. They’re not just attractive, but successful too. And yet they are talking to you.
The thing is, though, that you don’t know who these people are. You do an urgent inventory of your mental catalogue of the attractive successful people you’ve met and, as ever, find that it is empty. But you can’t be rude.
‘Hello,’ you say back.
‘So, how are you doing? Well?’ says the happy blond man.
‘Yes,’ you reply. ‘Sort of… I suppose.’
‘That’s great,’ says the brunette woman.
There is a silence. There is a very strong temptation to fill this silence. Despite this, you hold back momentarily in order to make a few calculations. Some of these calculations are informed by your sense of decency and fellow feeling for other human beings. Some of them are less charitable. You don’t want to embarrass these people simply by not pretending to know them. And look at them: they must be important. The kind of people who can offer other people TV series, book deals, the keys to flats in Kensington. Unlikely? Yes, but possible. This is London; unlikely things happen to people all the time. And if they are happening to people all the time then why, for once, shouldn’t one of those people be you? So you fill the gap.
‘And how are things,’ you say, ‘with you two?’
And there is no way back: you have committed to knowing them. The thing that just went whistling by, which you chose to ignore, was your last chance to say: ‘Look, I’m sorry, but I’m not sure if we have met before.’ But now you have passed that point and are in new, dangerous territory. Even though they started it by wandering over and talking, it is you who’s at fault. They are merely mistaken, but you are a liar.
‘We met at Simone’s, didn’t we?’ says the woman. Although you didn’t, it’s entirely possible that you could have. Simone has lots of parties and they’re always good. So now you compound your first lie, which was perhaps excusable, with a second, that isn’t. ‘Yes we did.’
It’s so blatant that you ought to blush and, to be fair, you do. The brunette women sees your cheek redden and, for the first time in the encounter, her smile loses some of its intensity. Unease throbs deep within your breast. Is it possible to backtrack from your second lie? ‘Though,’ you say, ‘maybe not.’
‘Maybe not?’ says the blond man, alert rather than happy now and showing a flash of cruelty around the eyes that suggests that as a child he was given to incinerating ants with cigarette lighters.
‘Well, I mean …’ you begin to answer when you are interrupted by the arrival of a man who has hair like yours and is about your height and age. He’s even wearing a shirt and jacket like yours. And glasses.
‘Ben! Celia!’ he says happily. ‘Great to see you again. Remember, we met at Simone’s party?’ Ben and Celia turn their gaze to you, puzzled.
‘Excuse me,’ says an angry woman on your left. ‘Is that my quiche?’
Wondering what else you shouldn’t do in London? Find out here.