I had a ticket to see the lovely Jon Ronson speaking at Oswestry Lit Fest, so I thought I might take advantage of the post-talk book signing to see if I couldn't manage to exchange a few words with a famous person without making a complete idiot of myself (see previous post).
On arrival at the Travelodge, the sun was shining. I was delighted to find my room overlooked actual genuine countryside. Right outside, there was a field with a pony in it. A rabbit emerged from a burrow by the fence and started nibbling on the grass.
This was proper bucolic, like. I sat there for ages soaking up the tranquility, then drove into town for the talk.
Jon Ronson was, as expected, interesting, funny and absorbing. He spoke for an hour which wasn't nearly enough but he did manage to drop some fascinating gossip about Richard Branson, David Icke and George Clooney while he was at it.
Time was tight because he needed to dash off and get a train back to London that night, and in case the Oswestry folks hadn't noticed they'd shut the train station some years before, which meant he had to drive to Crewe. Did we want him to speak for another 20 minutes, he asked, or did we want him to sign the book that came free with our ticket?
BOOK, the crowd decided, and we formed an orderly queue.
I was towards the back of the line, and after last weekend's The Beat debacle was kind of hoping he would have to dash off before I reached the front. But Jon Ronson is astonishingly fast at signing books (so much so he wondered out loud if he could claim the Guinness World Record for Fastest Book Signing), and the queue snaked forward with alarming speed.
When I was five people away from him, with Jon glancing wildly at the clock and his entourage making noises about closing the line, I relaxed.
When I was two people away, and he looked as if he was good for another three minutes at least, I realised line closure wasn't going to happen AND I NEEDED TO THINK OF SOMETHING REASONABLY INTELLIGENT TO SAY TO JON RONSON RIGHT NOW.
Various things came to mind, none of which made much sense. I felt the panic rising. When it was my turn, I thrust the book at him and mumbled something like "Really enjoyed that, thank you."
He was busy scribbling "Jon" plus three big kisses.
Then, from some unknown part of me, I heard myself say, "I drove up from Cardiff today to see you. I think about you every time I jog around the lake." Calmly and clearly, with a wry friendly grin, like an actual human being might.
"Really?" Jon said. His head whipped up from the book and he gave me a big smile. "You jog round Roath lake?"
"Yeah, I live by the park."
Conscious of the queue behind me, and excruciatingly embarrassed by my one second of boldness, I'd already started to move away.
"Well, don't fall in," he said to my departing back. "It's not very nice in there!"
The next morning, the sun was still shining. I drew back the hotel curtains and gazed at the field and saw there were two ponies now. Little skewbald things, with hairy feet.
I went to find some breakfast. Travelodge have forged a pact with the devil and praise be there was a Little Chef right outside. When I came back, there were four ponies.
I drove home slowly the long way, along snaking B-roads. There were signs seemingly on every turn: 'Welcome to Powys', 'Welcome to Shropshire'. 'Welcome to England', 'Welcome to Wales'. Ancient byways. Ancient scenery. Ancient towns, ripe for a wander. No need to rush. The sun was still shining.
When I got home, I took a walk around the lake.
And I did think about Jon Ronson. I thought about Jimi Hendrix too. But I also thought about the turbulent history of the British Isles. And how pretty the countryside is here. And you bet I thought about the ponies. What on earth was going on with the ponies?
I could only conclude that Oswestry ponies (or was it Shropshire ponies? Or just ponies in general?) must increase exponentially.