At this point most people start to back away, but those who remain then ask, "Where do you live?" My reply is, "Central London." "What's that like?" they ask. "Well," I say, "I have to tell you it's very nice, the only real nightmare is the problem I have parking the old bus." I haven't started using the demotic speech of the 1930s, and saying "old bus" meaning a drop-head Bentley or something. I'm not going round saying "Pip pip old fruit" or "What ho old man! Here's mud in your eye. I'm taking the old bus down to Binky Pemberton's place for the weekend. Fancy coming along with a couple of totties?"
No, it's just that my daily transport is a 1948 Eastern Counties Leyland double-decker - an old bus. Driving around town in a vehicle that can seat up to 70 may seem a little foolish and things can get a bit tight in Sainsbury's car park but a celebrity needs to have a vehicle that makes him or her stand out from the crowd. My problems with parking the thing are not so much to do with the fact that it's 50 feet long, more that all the parking spaces have been taken up by the nearby YMCA. They park for as long as they like and there's nothing you can do. "Why have the YMCA taken all the parking spaces?" asks the persistent person who still hasn't gone away. So I tell them: it's a little known fact that the YMCA, like that other diplomatic anomaly the Vatican City, is considered a separate state and so their officials have the same privileges as other embassy employees from more conventional countries. This means YMCA officials, like other diplomats, can pretty much park wherever they like, such as in the food hall of Debenhams. Apart from diplomatic immunity, the other benefits that accrue to the organisation are that the YMCA has a seat on the UN Security Council (although they only ever vote on issues concerning basketballs.) Plus the premises of the YMCA are considered foreign territory, so if you've committed a crime and the police are after you, book into the "Y" and the authorities can't get their hands on you (though some of your dorm buddies can) without undertaking lengthy extradition proceedings.
You'll notice that tea, coffee and salad is very reasonably priced in the YMCA canteen - it's duty free.
There was a time when I was so disgusted with Britain that I applied to become a citizen of the YMCA but, as you can imagine, conditions for attaining that state are stringent. It wasn't so much swearing an eternal oath of allegiance to the Village People that I balked at, but rather the language test that caught me out. You see, I am absolutely useless at languages, yet when I was younger my family shared a delusion that, unlike all the other monoglot English denizens of our street, we - my mum, dad and me - were a trio of dazzling polyglots. This was despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
For a start, my dad was supposed to be brilliant at speaking Esperanto. Esperanto was a language that was invented by some loony in the 1920s and was supposed to be spoken by people of every nation; this was supposed to stop war. The only place it was popular was Yugoslavia and it didn't do them much good, did it? Anyway, my dad was supposed to be brilliant at Esperanto, but we never found anybody else who could speak it so we had to take his word (or "hissen Wordio") for it . And my mum insisted she was fluent in German - but what she actually spoke was Yiddish. Now she insisted that this was identical to German and at the time I believed her despite the fact that when I was a kid we would often be standing in some East German Bahnhof and my mother would ask an official where the waiting room was. After a few moments he'd go away and come back with a wheelbarrow full of watermelons. I think, in retrospect, that the strain of Yiddish her family spoke was probably exclusive to chicken vendors in the northern suburbs of Riga where they originally came from. And me - well I just thought I was brilliant at all languages apart from not knowing any vocabulary or any grammar so I was gobsmacked when I got a grade 8 in O-level French.Reuse content