Skills are great, aren’t they? Who doesn’t love a skill? And who can think badly of a workplace that develops and nurtures skills?
Working in the Out Of Favour Shop, for example, has allowed me to develop the, frankly, amazing skill of successfully holding a lengthy conversation with someone without having the first clue what we’re talking about.
|"Hi there, I'm fascinating." Original image: Prawny, Pixabay
My spectacular honing of these skills is due, in no small part, to my poshest ever MAMAA (Middle Aged Men Always Around): Mr Mysterious Scholar.
Conversations with him are baffling, not least because I think we’re talking about one thing, and it turns out, we’re talking about something else entirely. Probably.
So he’ll say something like, “Fish can see one’s profile above the surface of the water.” And I think, ‘Great! I get it! We’re talking about fishing! (Well, not so great because we’re talking about fishing, but I can run with it). But then he’ll say, “But of course that was true of the Dutch Masters too,” and it turns out we’re actually talking about oil painting (possibly).
Or he’ll say, “In my opinion burgundy is the most deadening colour,” and I’m like, ‘OK…. we’re talking about fashion….?’ But in the next sentence, he’ll come out with; “Because, you know, she dated Prince Harry….,” and it turns out we’ve been having a conversation about junior royals and their minions all along.
Oh, and he does love a junior royal and their minions. He was beside himself the day he announced he’d spent the morning in the company of (i.e. momentarily brushing sleeves with) Clarissa Beauchamp – Horse-Face at the Snobbery-cum-Nimby village duck trials. At least I think that’s what he said.
And that’s the thing with Mr MS: hard facts are difficult to pin down. He is a master of the half revelation; giving just enough to tantalise but not enough to scrutinize. And he will never expand or clarify.
As a consequence the man is a mystery. And quite possibly a fantasist.
When I first met him I thought he was a vicar, because he was like, ‘I’m doing my work for God’. He even gave me a business card - but it didn’t mention vicars or God, or anything at all much. Maybe that was a clue, because during our next conversation he appeared to suggest he’d been, ‘entertaining’ a Russian ballerina in the west end of London for a couple of months. He did tell me her name and the company she danced for, but I couldn’t quite catch it.
|Picture: Carol Davies, Saucy Postcards pinterest
On another occasion I thought he must be doing some post graduate thing on the history of monasteries in northern France (Yep. Imagine me keeping my end up in a conversation like that; oh yeah: massive gold stars to me). He kept rambling on about The Knights Templar and being a guest of boozy French monks, but then he gave me a business card which said he was a cultural advisor on some project in Italy.
|Photo: robtowne0, Pixabay
The time after that, he told me he was a professional house sitter in Oxfordshire, but when he gave me his latest business card, it said he was an affiliate of some unheard of Belgian university. (He wasn’t a very good house sitter. Apparently the house burnt down. But that’s another story…).
Ah yes, the business cards. He hands one to me pretty much every time he’s in. And I take it, thinking it will give me some sort of actual evidence as to who he is and what he does.
Fat chance. Even they don’t make sense:
Each one is from a different country. Each one is from some weird sounding institution. Each one has a different job title, and, strangest of all, each one has a different name on the front. So, whilst he's, 'Dr Roger Connerie,' at the University of Central Downtowon Bruges on one, he's Ruggiero Cazzate, of the Heritage Project of Northern Italy on another, and Mr R. Ffantasydd MSc at the University of the South Downs, Bangor on yet another (I may have made some of these up, but I'm only following Mr Mysterious Scholar's lead. Probably).
I used to stick them up on the wall in the Out Of Favour shop kitchen. But then I got bored. Life really is too short.
I did think I’d caught him in a fact one time though. He told me he’d once set up a conservation website to discuss the Big Environmental Issues of the day. ‘At last!’ I thought, ‘something I can actually check.’ I asked him the exact name of the site and secretly wrote it down.
I Googled it later. It didn’t exist.
But then, maybe that wasn’t what he was saying at all.