The man who reads t-shirts

I don’t normally walk by Nero’s in Castle Street but, since Friday, I’ve had cause to do so three times. And each time, I have seen a man who has a ukulele and rides a bicycle. I only mention this because, the three times I’ve seen him, and he’s seen me, he hasn’t been able to avoid reading my t-shirts.

Out loud.

For instance, on Friday, having been to Boots, I walked past him wearing my Sarah McQuaid t-shirt. He started reading it as I walked by and then insisted I turn back to him so he could finish it.

He agreed with the sentiment and gave me a thumbs up when I said it we should stop fracking. I didn’t explain the whole story behind the t-shirt and the song but he agreed anyway.

The story was related to us by Sarah at a concert we attended at the Maltings a few years ago. Her son, aged 10, said it in relation to a TV programme about coal mining. He just came out with it and Sarah scribbled it down. It made her equate mining companies with children digging in the garden. She then wrote a song with that title. The t-shirt is the cover art for the CD; the handwriting is Sarah’s.

Anyway, back to the man with the ukulele. On Saturday, I had cause to walk by him once more. He seems to regularly take a coffee outside Nero’s of a morning. I was wearing my Joan of Arc t-shirt, and he gestured for me to stop, so he could read it.

He remarked that we have a Joan of Arc Catholic church in Farnham and also there was the Leonard Cohen song. He asked me if I’d heard it. While I don’t think I have, I’ve heard enough Leonard Cohen songs to know I can pretty much guess what it would sound like.

I could be wrong, but I think, the first Leonard Cohen song I heard was Waiting for a Miracle in Natural Born Killers. An extraordinary film with an amazing soundtrack.

I should stress that my Joan t-shirt is more ironic than religious. In 2014, I wrote my own theory about the Joan story and I bought the t-shirt while in Rouen back in October 2017. I also keep seeing paintings and statues of her which, obviously, I ‘collect’. It’s a bit like my St Sebastien obsession.

But, moving on to today, I spotted him sitting outside Neros but I was on the other side of the road. I was thinking of getting a haircut but the barber was closed so I continued up Castle Street, heading for home. I got as far as Park Row when I ran into Vivienne and Luna.

We chatted for a bit when, suddenly, the man with the ukulele rode by and suddenly stopped. He looked at my t-shirt but couldn’t make it out.

He looked at me quizzically.

It’s Space Force,” I told him. His face curled up in confusion. “An American sitcom,” I added.

This man is a walking art gallery,” He said to Vivienne, before getting back on his bike and pedalling away.

Clearly, I am going to have to wear a different t-shirt every time I go shopping now. I wonder how long I can go without a repeat?

Here’s Leonard Cohen’s version of Joan.

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