A surprisingly convivial atmosphere prevailed in the second-class carriage of the fast London-bound train when I stepped aboard at Bodmin. A loud, cheerful, messy young family was eating and drinking unrestrainedly, though it was not yet 11 o’clock. Cans of bitter and lager, not all of them unopened, were arrayed on several other tables. Animated conversation and uninhibited laughter were widespread. And — was it my imagination? — a Cornish national spirit presided, vivid with pleasure at the prospect of exchanging a green wet peninsular for the solidity of the metropolis.
As I moved down the carriage aisle searching for an empty seat, Cornish eyes lifted to meet mine, not shyly or slyly, but with friendly curiosity. Some to ascertain how quick on the uptake I was that this was the noisy party carriage; others to gauge what kind of a personality I was bringing to the affair.
I found a vacant seat beside a young woman in her late twenties wearing kneed, agricultural-looking jeans. As I sat, she greeted me cordially through protruding teeth. Her greeting was so unaffectedly welcoming, I wondered if we’d met before. In her hands was an unfranked letter, the address in capitals. She intercepted my glance and began to talk about it.
She was a massive Suzi Quatro fan, she said. She was a life subscription fan club member and she had seen Suzi in concert countless times. She’d travelled as far as Berlin to see her play. But she had only met Suzi — who is a lovely, lovely person — twice so far. This letter, she said, was her entry in a prize draw organised by the fan club to meet Suzi Quatro and take afternoon tea with her at her house in Essex.
(Oddly enough, I was travelling up for a ‘Meet the Readers’ afternoon tea party at the Spectator office. I considered confessing this as a kind of coincidence, but when I rehearsed it in my head, it sounded so far-fetched, even to me, that I doubted whether she’d believe it, so I decided to keep it to myself.)
She lifted her arms in pious devotion to her idol, crossed fingers on both hands and shook them to agitate her luck. ‘I just love her,’ she said with simple passion. ‘I love everything about her. To sit down to afternoon tea with Suzi would be heaven to me. After that I could die happy,’ she said. And she breathed out a long sigh of ineffable sadness.
‘How many other people do you think will enter the draw?’ I said in all seriousness, for I have form and a little expertise in this area. I once had my entry picked out at random from an entry bag of 80,000 to win an XR3i cabriolet. She leaned in, her arm against mine, confidentially. I was on her wavelength. The competition, she said, was run by the fan club. So her guess was between 2,500 and 3,000 max. Suzi was going to pick the winning entry out of the bag herself. She always does. And now here’s the thing, she said, lowering her voice. When Suzi Quatro picks an envelope at random out of a bag, she always delves down to about halfway and picks the first one that comes to hand. Always. She doesn’t muck about. She never roots around or churns the envelopes or shakes the bag. Never. She shoots in her hand — she’s right-handed — it goes halfway down, then it comes out again with the winning card or envelope.
So her plan was this. (Again the confidential tone, from one competition expert to another.) She had been waiting until exactly halfway between the competition’s opening and closing dates, and now she was going to post in her entry, hoping it would end up halfway down the bag. Rather than post her entry from Cornwall, and it taking anything up to a week to get there, throwing out her calculations, she was taking the letter up to London to post it, hoping for an overnight delivery from there to Suzi’s home in Essex.
One couldn’t help but admire such meticulous planning. I really wanted her to win. But I couldn’t also help wondering whether she wouldn’t have done better to think outside the box. Surely it would have saved a lot of trouble, and been far more exciting, to have gone to Suzi Quatro’s house, knocked on the door, and declared her love to Suzi Quatro’s face when she came to answer it.
What a nice woman, though! Already she’d told me the secret of her heart and enrolled me as a co-conspirator. I looked out of the window to see where we’d got to, half expecting to be looking down over the Tamar river. I was shocked to find that we hadn’t yet pulled away from the platform at Bodmin. Friendly sorts, the Cornish.
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