His name was Albert, I eventually found out. An old fella, sitting with a pint at the next table in a Camden pub. I was killing time, waiting to go to a party across the road. Albert was killing time before he had to return to his fourth-floor flat around the corner, where his immediate neighbours are a Greek fella and a "big, white" fella who always slams his front door at 5.30am.
You know when you can tell someone's trying to find an excuse to start an unwelcome conversation? Albert showed all the signs. For a start, he wandered off to get a pint, then came back and sat a little closer than before. After that, it was just a matter of time. Then he hit the jackpot - a newspaper headline about Jose Mourinho getting paid £4m for something, which he made me aware of, by simply pointing at it until I glanced over. Bingo, instant matey conversation starter. Except I wasn't interested in football. Or Albert. Or in conversation with anyone, seeing as my mind was trying to focus on a story idea.
Not that any of this stopped Albert. Not even the fact that I was clearly sitting on his deaf side. He was an old-school Londoner, in a Londoner's hat, from a time when Londoners thought nothing of chatting with other Londoners, in London pubs. He was 74 year old, claiming, "I don't look it", when in fact he so did. Bless him and his rheumy old eyes.
For a while, the stop-start-but-persistent conversation cast a shadow over my sausage 'n' mash. I felt like a caged animal, being talked at by a cruel scientist who was testing the effects of inanity on the mind. Then yet another advantage of being a writer suddenly occured to me: we can turn the babblings of random strangers into valuable fictional tender. Perhaps Albert might inadvertently bestowe me with an entire storyline - perhaps a story about a greyhound who escaped, or something. Why, this stranger could make my very fortune by planting a plot-seed in my brain.
He didn't, as it turned out. But maybe, next time I need an old London bloke to plonk into a script, Albert will volunteer his services without even realising. Or have him yourself some time, for a mere 2.5% of the net. Bargain. Just give him back when you're done, yeah? Cheers.