Magazine article The Spectator

Identity Crisis

Magazine article The Spectator

Identity Crisis

Article excerpt

I WAS strolling along the prom at Scarborough minding my own business. The sun was hot, the ice-cream was cold and, apart from my usual troubles and problems (or troublems, as a friend calls them), I hadn't a care in the world. Or so I thought. For as I ambled along, I got the distinct impression that the good burghers of Scarborough were giving me the stare, whispering to each other as they did so. It was quite unnerving; was I really that strange? Admittedly, I had just had one of my savage Number Two haircuts, but that rarely produces such a profound reaction, except from my aunt who thoughtfully offered me a subscription to Gay Times.

It took me a while to notice the police car keeping pace with me, its occupants eyeing me closely. I began to fret about what I'd been up to - last night, last week, last month, ever. I had no outstanding parking fines as far as I knew, and surely that girl on the tour bus in Whitby hadn't complained to anyone; I was only being chatty. As I quickened my step, one of the policemen leapt out and blocked my path. `Just a moment, sir, could I have a quick word?' he asked, as a murmuring group of bystanders gathered. He then bombarded me with questions: did I live in Scarborough, and, if not, where did I live? How long had I been in town? Why was I here? Where was I staying? When would I be leaving? How old was I? What was my occupation?

I don't consider myself a troublemaker, and I boast a cleanish record, marred only by a ridiculous misunderstanding long ago about some errant garden gnomes - conditional discharge, Maidstone magistrates' court, 1976 - but I began to feel absurdly guilty and extremely nervous. I answered his inquiries meekly, until suddenly I was overcome by anger. `Look, what on earth is this all about? Just what am I supposed to have done?'

`Nothing, as far as I know,' smiled the policeman. `It's just that we've got someone the spitting image of you down the nick and we're trying to round up enough lookalikes for an identity parade. Seven o'clock tonight. Can you come?' I let out a long sigh of relief, and told him that unfortunately I had planned on being in Scarborough only until mid-afternoon. Sorry and all that, but I would have to be pressing on.

The rozzers in Scarborough are an eagle-- eyed bunch, for barely 20 minutes later I was accosted by a couple of plods on foot patrol. Again, passers-by stopped to have a good gawp. One of the pair embarked on the same rigmarole, until I stopped him and said that I already knew about the ID parade and that, sadly, I wouldn't be around at seven. Sorry, but no.

Coming out of an art gallery an hour later, I was nabbed yet again, this time by a passing police van, blue light flashing. As the policewoman wound down the window I told her that the answer was no. `Look,' she insisted, `the guy in custody is suspected of doing something really vile. We're certain that he did it, and if we don't hold the ID parade by seven tonight, we are obliged to let him go. Two witnesses scared out of their wits have agreed to come along, but we have to have at least 13 people to choose from and we're still several guys short. And you do look just like him.' I asked what my doppelganger was supposed to have done. `Something very, very unsavoury,' she said, looking me in the eye. I gave in and told her that I'd be there.

I spent the rest of the day feeling hounded, cowering out of sight in hotel foyers, cafes and shops, before presenting myself at Scarborough police station. …

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