Walking home from the pub last year one of my neighbours was hit by a car. Two hours later he was found at the side of the road. A week or so later it was his funeral.
Everyone 'round this part of town missed him. Not least the local Conservative party, since he may have been their only voter. My children missed him because he looked after hibernating hedgehogs. And I missed him because he was my mate. I called him 'mate'. He called me Norman.
He’d worked on his house for nearly 20 years so pretty much everything in the garden was his. Certainly, I had no clue how any of it worked. Why did he grow the tomatoes out of polythene bags? How do you make a potato? What sort of fuel does the strimmer use?
Earlier in the year, I cleared a stone urn of the dead flowers and planted some bulbs. But I fear I may have put them in upside down. So, realistically, I’m going to have to find another advisor.
This is what we do. When the lavatory explodes we call a plumber. When the car needs servicing, we take it to a garage. After Lord Finchley was killed changing a light bulb someone commented: "It is the business of the wealthy man to give employment to the artisan."
Absolutely. And yet everyone thinks that when it comes to the tricky and specialised job of spinning a yarn, they can manage on their own.
Not necessarily. Some years ago I was down in London (for reasons not relevant here). While waiting in yet another government building for yet another government permit, I was introduced to a man who, they said, had commanded the forces that repelled the american invasion at the Bay of Pigs.
You may have heard the screech of metal on lino as I pulled my chair over for a damn good afternoon’s chat. But no. Never has a man made such a pivotal point of history so dull.
"When the americans came," he said, "we fired at them and they fired back at us. Later Fidel arrived. He stayed for a bit then he went away again. In the afternoon, he came back with a tank, so we moved the one we had a bit to the side."
He had been in the eye of the hurricane. His army, equipped with boots made from banana skins had seen off the superpower bully. But he couldn’t make it live.
We see this with military types all the time. You might think when a VC winner uses phrases such as "Getting rather tricky" and "Bit of a mess" that they’re skillfully using the raconteur’s gift of dramatic irony to heighten the moment.
Not a bit of it. The fact is that most of us — Brunel excepted — are given only one gift from God. And therefore, someone who’s capable of taking an enemy machinegun nest armed only with a trouser press is not likely to be an entertaining after-dinner speaker as well.
No, that gift is given to the Sunday league footballer who can make his nil-nil draw against a side from the Red Lion sound like the 1966 World Cup final.
We see this at dinner parties all the time. Someone can have the table in stitches for an hour, while telling us how to wire a plug. Then someone else says: "Mmmm. That reminds me of the time when I was working as a simultaneous translator for special ops in Sierra Leone and I had to disarm the trembler switch on the nuclear bomb just after the terrorist had poured itching powder down the back of my shirt."
Eagerly we all gather round but by the time he’s finished, three of the party are asleep and six, to escape the tedium, have committed suicide by jumping in the fire.
Sorry to be sexist about this, but women are particularly poor at anecdotes. They tell stories like they throw balls. It sort of works but, actually, it sort of doesn’t.
Happily, however, I have an idea that can solve all this. You employ a personal trainer at home and a personal assistant at work. So why not turn up at dinner parties with a personal anecdote-teller?
When you feel the time is right to regale the table with your heroics in Sierra Leone, simply tip him the wink and off he’ll go. "Yeah, the sky was blood red. There were seven of them and just me . . ."
This would also work well for Formula One drivers in their post-race interviews. "Well, Juan. You did well on lap 43, overtaking seven cars with your engine on fire and that tiger loose in the cockpit. Tell us about it."
And instead of saying: "Well, it was important to conserve the tyres," he could turn to his personal anecdotalist, who could bring the story to life.
This doesn’t need to be expensive. Get down to Jongleurs or the Comedy Store on amateur night and you’ll find half a dozen good comedians who, I’d bet, would be more than happy to be your storyteller for perhaps as little as 50 quid.
People know when they’re short. And they know when they’re ginger. So they must know that they’re boring. So don’t worry. You could buy a bore a storyteller as a gift and I don’t think he or she would be hurt. I’m thinking of getting J.K Rowling one for Christmas.