Two nights ago I received a rather perturbing e-mail from one of my blog readers who styles himself "Lurkio". The e-mail - which raises a number of important issues - reads as follows:
"Hi Mr Pundy
I am thinking of visiting the Booklaunch you recently described on your blog in the hope of meeting both you and Mr Ahearn as I too am a failed writer who still aspires to literary greatness despite all the evidence to the contrary. I believe I can draw inspiration from the way you have both refused to accept your lack of talent as a serious hindrance on the road to literary immortality. The problem is, I don't know what either you or Mr Ahearn looks like and I have a dread of approaching other men in strange pubs in case my motives are misconstrued. Please can you help?
Let me say right away - and after a great deal of thought - and despite the moral minefield that surrounds the subject - I determined to tackle the issue of identifying people you have never met head on. Here's the rather courageous reply I sent Mr Lurkio:
"Hi Mr Lurkio
Do not despair. The problem you have described is surprisingly common, even though it is rarely spoken about in public. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Indeed, so common is the affliction that that it's little wonder that the world is full of strangers. I believe this is especially true in London, due in part to the high population density, to say nothing of the widespread occurrence of public houses.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to pre-cognitive stranger recognition, as the illness is more properly known. Freud, in particular, was especially gloomy about the likelihood of finding a reliable palliative since, in his opinion, every stranger presented a different challenge to the cognitee (ie you). Jung, on the other hand felt that certain facial distinguishing strategies were worthy of consideration especially if the target could be fulsomely described.
Your particular case is made more difficult by the fact that I too have not met John Ahearn. However, being a fully-trained (and successful) self-published author I am able to deconstruct John's writing by means of acute textual analysis and reconstruct the resulting signifiers into something which is - I am confident - an accurate word-picture of what the man actually looks like. Here then - based solely upon his published oeuvre - is his description:
1 He is male
2 He is American
3 He speaks largely in Arkansas rhyming slang
4 He is over six feet tall
5 He has a lazy right eye
6 He has a very furrowed brow due to all the agonising he endures trying to find the apposite bon mots for his poems
7 He is bow-legged
8 He has a large white droopy moustache
9 He may or may not be wearing glasses
10 He'll be swilling corn whiskey from a small barrel balanced on his shoulder
If you are still unable to spot him in the crowd from this description look out for a guy wearing a Stetson with a sixgun strapped to his waist standing beside a horse tethered to the bar. This may not be John but he'll likely be an American who will at least buy you a drink.
As far as my own appearance is concerned the problem is altogether different. According to my wife - who I have to admit I haven't seen for some time - I have absolutely no self-awareness. This makes describing myself extremely difficult. To help me I asked my two friends to describe me but the best they could come up with was the following list of adjectives: "humourless", "dull", "mean", "thick", "bitter", "envious", "snobbish", "touchy" (but not feely) and - a little unfairly I thought - "extremely unsociable". Physically, I am six feet tall, balding, multiple-chinned, gap-toothed, short-sighted, hard-of-hearing and I wear a permanently mournful expression on my face.
If all else fails, look for the guy standing alone in the corner. That'll be me. Unless, of course, it's you - seeing your reflection in the mirror next to the Gent's lavatory.
See you there!!!!"