Posted on October 9, 2005
Connoisseur of the surreal, Louis Theroux, this week releases his first book, The Call of the Weird, in which he revisits the subjects of his television documentaries – the off-beat characters on the fringes of American society.
Tall, bespectacled and only just handsome, I often meet the comparison with the TV star, whom, I usually point out, was dubbed “the thinking woman’s crumpet” by a leading women’s magazine in 2001. As if to further our resemblance, this week I too found myself revisiting a subject of my blog.
You may remember a not-so-brilliant post that I wrote about an Indian-run chip shop on the fringes of the Shrewsbury town centre, and its blaspheming staff member that made a sincere effort to sound English.
Well, just yesterday, I saw him at his new place of work and, not content with now sounding English, his latest challenge, it seems, is to be a black man. Smiling behind the counter at McDonald’s, his newly acquired teeth gleaming like the golden arches, his hair a curious design, cut to appear like swept-back braided hair – “cornrows” I believe they’re called – he greeted me with the surprise of an old friend, when in actual fact – aside from both being Indian – we knew nothing about each other.
And, while I decided between fries and carrot sticks, he served the gentleman before me, a flustered looking, middle-aged man with greying hair and a temper fiery red. With the distinctive accent of upper-crust Britain and the manners of its stone-age ancestors, the man spat his order at the young immigrant. “And a bottle of Water,” he added.
Bagging the Big Mac, the young man reached for the fridge and asked in perfect RP, “was that a cup of tea?”
“No. A bottle of water, boy.”
And then with absolute grace, he handed over the water, took the man’s money and then, with a strange knowing glance my way – like old friends – said with a smile, “And here’s your change, sir,” before dropping the 50p piece into the charity box depository, just an inch from the man’s open hand. “Thank you.”
And with that, the man showed his ungleaming teeth, looked as though he was about to say something, but, unable to take from a children’s charity, simply walked away.
“And what can I get for you, my friend,” he said, as if he really knew me.
And, somewhat overwhelmed, I considered the last five minutes introduction enough, smiled – like an old friend – and gave him my order.