A good walk, ruined

A few years ago, whilst in the grip of one of my occasional health kicks, I went for a long walk in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. I eventually found myself in a remote corner, threading my way through a small glade. On mature reflection, this was asking for trouble. Small glades in remote corners of the Phoenix Park are notorious cruising hotspots. I knew that, of course, but didn’t think it applied at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning. On this score, I was dead wrong. Trudging gamely along, I heard someone clearing their throat and spun around to my right.  There, leaning casually against a tree, was a middle-aged gentleman with frizzy hair and wild eyes; at first glance, he put me in mind of Jasper Carrott. His trousers were around his ankles and his shorts were around his knees. His right hand, I am sorry to inform the sensitive reader, was around his … y’know … his unit. He nodded down at said appendage, as if offering me a wine gum. A great many options were open to me at this point.  I could have run off. I could have given him a lengthy dressing-down – if that’s the phrase I want – about the desecration of public spaces. I could have taken grave offence and thumped him. But I did none of these things. I shook my head, adopted a regretful expression, and chirped, ‘No, thanks!’ Bear in mind that it was not a flat, movie-cool ‘No, thanks!’ These were not the terse words of a sophisticated city-dweller who had seen it all and was essentially unshockable. No, this was the common-or-garden ‘No, thanks!’ of the type you might deliver to a door-to-door carpet salesman or charity mugger. My voice was tinged with mild  embarrassment at not taking him up on his offer and hinted that he had simply caught me at the wrong moment. I might as well have added ‘Sure, I’ll get you the next time’. The man shrugged fatalistically and I went on my way, congratulating myself on having remembered that no matter what the circumstances, it costs nothing to be polite. Barely a week has gone by since when I haven’t thought of this moment and cringed. It has utterly ruined the humble ‘No, thanks!’ for me. If you ever hear me saying it, however innocent the scenario, rest assured that somewhere at the back of my mind, the Jasper Carrott look-alike is stirring.

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