Amongst my vast collection of highly fashionable clothes I have an assortment of vests, in various colours and styles, which are the envy of North London. One of these is a 118 vest, of the type worn in the advert for the 118 118 direct inquiries adverts featuring two David Bedford lookalikes. Having surveyed the outside weather, I decided the conditions were suitable for the 118 number to be selected for today’s outing to the Lido in Hampstead.
Now there’s something about the 118 vest which invariably elicits a specific response in the young urchins of London. You know the sort; the ones who sit at bus stops spitting on the floor – but seem incapable of spitting properly, favouring a most unsightly dribble-like style, perhaps accompanied by a little ‘squirt’ sound – and getting those people who believe anti-social behaviour is a modern day British phenomena really wound up. Whenever I wear my 118 vest, these creatures cannot help but shouting out “Got your number!” - as was the slogan from the advert - whilst their spotty companions collapse into fits of laughter, clearly overwhelmed by the sheer audacity and comic genius of the baseball capped modern day Oscar Wilde in their midst.
Now I don’t mind this. It’s certainly preferable to something like, oh I don’t know, “Ere you queer tosser, get a haircut” or them snatching at my mobile. But still it grates, for two reasons. Firstly, they always wait until I’ve passed by and there’s a good distance between us before caling out. Now I think this is most unnecessary: this sort of behaviour is certainly suitable upon seeing Richard Wilson and letting rip a “I don’t believe it” or Michael Myers and hollering “Schwing!” – shouting at the back of a retreating celebrity is a behaviour we can all enjoy indulging in from time to time – but affording this amount of distance before treating your average Joe on the street with the benefit of your searing wit seems a rather excessive, if not a little cowardly. “C’mon lads,” the schoolteacher in me wants to say, “let’s hear your best to my face this time”. You never know, I might indulge them with a little conspiratorial smirk or even rip off a salute. But the second, and perhaps most irksome, aspect is that surely, by choosing to adopt a 118 vest, by proxy I’ve already done the “Got your number!” gag. They're stealing my comic thunder, dammnit! Surely it’s obvious even to these dullards that I’m not wearing it inadvertently? That it’s not a case of me unwittingly buying a vest sporting the number 118 only for an advertising campaign to be launched in the months subsequently, rendering me a figure for ridicule. That I’m not now destined to walk the streets grinding my teeth thinking “Curses to those advertising execs, making a mockery of my vest and those like it!”. Now, ok, I accept I’m leaving myself wide open for all this really, but still.
Hampstead Heath where the Lido is situated is half an hours walk from my flat. In the hour walking there and back I was on the receiving end of no less than nine “Got your number!”’s. That’s a rate of more than one every seven minutes.
4 weeks ago