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Smallville: Identity Crisis

A wrongly delivered letter brings consternation to the Farrell household.

For more of Peter B Farrell’s humorous columns please click on Smallville in the menu on this page.

A local piano teacher had been murdered. All males residing in the neighbourhood were required to tell the police of their whereabouts on the specific day of the murder.

“Hold it there, squeeze in a bit.’’ Turning round on the local Church Hall steps I found myself amid a phalanx of burly policemen. The press photographers recorded the event in an explosion of flashbulbs and I was ushered inside to the temporary police Incident room.

Perhaps confused by my dark blue military raincoat, a police sergeant quickly allocated me to Investigation Team C. I was asked for my name, rank and police division.

“N’no,” I stammered “it’s all a mistake, I’m not in the police, I‘m here to make my statement.’’

The photograph adorned the front page of the local newspaper on the following morning under the headline ‘Murder Investigation Team Assemble, confident of early arrest.’ I recall comments made to the effect that I looked the part, although a bit on the slim side.

Whilst on active service, confronting the Communist hordes poised on the East German Border during the Cold War, I had managed to get home for a week. Unavoidably, having been 600 miles away at the time of the murder, I was late reporting to the police and technically under suspicion. With the equivalent of e-mails in those days being the pigeon post, clarification from Schleswig-Holstein seemed a long time forthcoming. The shock to the system caused by these events lingered on until the police finally made an arrest which resulted in a conviction.

Memories of these times resurfaced a few months ago when the morning post drop through the letterbox. Amongst the junk mail was an official package with our address in the envelope window.

The contents were from a firm of solicitors in Coventry - I’ve never been there - relating to imminent court proceedings for the recovery of a £3,600 debt for the supply of building materials. The fact that the covering letter proved to be addressed to a Mr S. T------ was hardly a relief. Unfortunately, as occasionally happens, although the address had been visible in the envelope window, the name had not.

What if a gang of criminal builders was using my address to obtain credit? What indeed was a criminal builder, and would a gang of criminal builders be foreigners? I could be in Yellow Pages, the target of angry residents complaining of foreign criminal builders, or even angry foreigners complaining of criminal residents. I considered having a notice board erected outside the house. ‘Unqualified tradesman. Building work never carried out. Dissatisfaction guaranteed. Do not phone this number.’

I baulked at contacting the solicitors since they had not got my name and telephone number. To keep them at arms length, I wrote myself a notice in fluorescent ink. “Do NOT answer the telephone’’ and placed it next to the handset. Scribbling ‘Definitely not known at this address’ on the offending envelope, I sealed it and posted it off to Coventry.

“You look different.’’ My wife had noticed. Attempting to change my appearance, I had given up on the designer stubble, or unshaven look as she put it, and had even polished my shoes. I had merely been wiping them with a banana skin, a practise recommended in my recently acquired 1928 edition of Chums annual. Parting my hair on the other side wouldn‘t make any difference as it is thin on top.

Since my early brush with the Law I have even been nervous when watching Columbo. Inspector Morse had me gibbering and searching for romance in ‘Brief Encounter’ or ‘Gone with the Wind’.

The whole banking sector was thrown into turmoil - well, my local branch was - when I transferred all my accounts to another provider. The change over took six weeks. I cut up my credit cards, cancelled the direct debits and called in every day to check my balance, determined to pay cash for everything. By then I was on first name terms with the staff, enquiring about their prospects of starring in the latest musical TV ad campaign, ran by their employers.

“Noodle Palace, good evening.” Not the Library! I must have dialled the number incorrectly whilst attempting to use the renew facility, a fairly complicated series of options involving my 12 digit library card number and a password. It proved to be a eureka moment, the phonebook of course. I hurriedly made my apologies to John Chinaman, the inscrutable proprietor, making a mental note to visit his emporium when we next ran out of soy sauce.

Thumbing quickly through the phonebook I located the S. T-------s, I’d found it! There was a match only 30 yards down the road. Later, slowly walking past the property, I managed to peep down the long driveway. What does £3,600 worth of building material look like? Perhaps it was kept under lock and key away from the bailiffs.

Feeling much better, I accosted the young post woman, asking about the letter I had marked ‘Not at this address,’ she reassured me it would be...

“Returned to sender...” I sang, interrupting her. I received a blank look. I gathered she was some 20 years short of being an Elvis fan.


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