I’m standing in the corner of the car-park at work, drinking a cup of tea, when I glimpse him through the grey, iron palisade fencing that protects the building I currently work in. He has dismounted his ladies lime green coloured bicycle; complete with wicker shopping basket, and is about to cross the busy main road onto the housing estate opposite, when he spots me standing there looking at him. It’s too late now for me to turn and escape, because he is obviously making his way towards me; smiling as he does so, in a slightly over-toothy kind of way.
“Do you work in there,” he asks in a friendly voice, pointing to the large building behind me. I look over my shoulder at the box behind me, where I spend most of my days, and answer him: “Yes, yes I do.” Now he’s come up close to the grey fencing, I can make out the green skull and crossbones badge which is pinned onto the lapel of the black suit he’s wearing. He has a shirt on – no tie – which is done up all the way to the top button. He has very sensible looking shoes on his feet, and a cycle helmet on his head – which is also very sensible. Underneath his cycle helmet I can see the cheap looking peak, of a pale blue baseball cap. There’s something odd about this inoffensive chap that I can’t quite put my finger on, but then again there are odd strangers everywhere in my local town of Farnborough.
We once had a weird man in Farnborough called: King Arthur Uther Pendragon who lived locally. Now obviously; he had changed his name, probably from something like Gareth Jenkins, and he was always appearing in the local newspapers, and quite often in the national press, and very occasionally on TV. King Arthur could often be seen walking along the edge of the A30 heading for the West Country, fully dressed as a knight of the round table; Excalibur strapped to his back. It always used to cheer me up whenever I saw Arthur, and it was a very sad day indeed when the former soldier returned to his former home of Salsbury in Somerset.
But not all of the weirdo’s have left Farnborough. There’s also a well known odd person; known locally as the “Coca-Cola man.” He can be seen on most days, sitting outside the town centre supermarket, drinking a bottle of Coke; not one of the small bottles, but one of the huge family sized bottles. I noticed recently that Coca-Cola man seems to have taken up smoking a pipe, which adds to his weirdness. I’m not sure I see that many people smoking pipes these days, although I’m positive something like that goes on in the stinky stairwells of the local council estates.
Town centres always seem to have a way of attracting the local weirdoes’, as there is another chap called “Badge man” who can be seen on most days, wandering around Farnborough town centre; pushing his Zimmer-frame on wheels, before going into the local bakery to pester the staff and its customers. Badge man is very well travelled; I know this because everywhere he goes, he buys a badge which he then pins to the front of his kaki coloured waistcoat for everyone to see. Now I hope you don’t think I’m being cruel, taking the piss out of Badge man because of the Zimmer-frame – far from it – what makes me laugh about him, is not only the badge fetish, but also the amount of key rings that he has dangling from his Zimmer-frame, which must amount to at least one hundred. Why all the key rings Badge man? After all; you’re obviously already collecting badges, so why not just concentrate on them?
“Do you remember the building that used to be here before?” asks “Lady Bike man” who I’ve just decided needs a name.
“Yes, it was a factory that made plastic insulation cable used for -“
“I used to work in there years ago; when I was a teenager” he gets in before I can finish my sentence; adding: “They moved the factory away to another town, and I had to leave.”
He looks up thoughtfully at the very sleek, silver building that stands on the site where he used to work and says nothing. For about half an awkward minute neither of us says a word, we both just stand staring at the building; me on the inside of the fence; him on the outside. It’s me who breaks the silence when I tell him that I used to come over to play at the back of the original building when I was a kid. We would climb up onto the wooden crates, piled up at the back of the factory to look in through the dirty windows. Sometimes the security guard would come out and chase us away, but we never meant any harm. We didn’t break anything or cause any damage; it was just high jinks and tomfoolery. He laughs, nods, and gives me a knowing smile; and then grabs his bike that he has leant on the fencing that separates us.
“Oh well, I’d best be off,” he says, and with that jumps on the green ladies bike and cycles across the busy main road; giving me another grin, and a pleasant ring of his bike bell. I watch him cycling away down the road until he finally disappears from view.
Since that day, I’ve given the stranger; “Lady Bike man” some thought, and although I’ve lived round here for a very long time, I don’t ever remember seeing the fellow before. It’s strange though how the weirdoes’; or local characters of our towns and cities stick in our minds, even once they are long gone.