Metro column 12

Richard Herring: Strange encounter on my honeymoon had a familiar ring to it
Richard Herring and his new bride had a strange encounter while enjoying a romantic honeymoon in the European capital of love, Paris.
Richard Herring Richard Herring had a rather strange encounter on his honeymoon

We honeymooned in Paris, though only for two nights as my British tour is still ongoing and I was in Andover on Wednesday. So at least the glamour didn’t end.

A foreign trip is not complete without a stranger trying to trick you with an unsophisticated hustle. When I was Interrailing around Europe in 1985 with my pal Geoffrey Quigley, an Italian man with impossibly thick glasses (looking like a rejected Dick Emery character) ran up to us, claiming to be a pilot who’d been robbed. He said he’d lost all his money and needed petrol to get to the airport for his flight, so offered to sell us his genuine Rolex watch at an unbelievably low price.

He couldn’t have chosen worse marks – his jam jar specs must have blinded him – we were two penniless 18-year-olds who were already reduced to nicking leftovers from restaurant tables to survive. We didn’t bite. I just remember laughing at the mental image of him hunched over his joystick, peering through the plane windscreen like Mr Magoo – glad I wasn’t one of his passengers.

On our lune de miel, my new wife and I were strolling up the Champs-Élysées when we passed a man scrabbling round in the dusty soil. He’d seemingly just discovered a gold ring, though he did so a little theatrically. Unimpressed, we didn’t stop but, undeterred, he jogged after us. ‘Look!’ he spluttered excitedly, holding out the shiny but chunky and ugly band.

‘Mmmmm,’ I said, mustering as much faked enthusiasm as possible.

‘It’s gold,’ he lied. Wide-eyed, he pointed at the inside of the ring where there were two hallmarks. But he only allowed me the briefest glimpse. I am no H Samuel but I reckon it’s probably possible to put those on any ring.

‘It doesn’t fit me,’ he said despondently, demonstrating with all the expertise of OJ Simpson that it was indeed too small for his finger. ‘I would like you to have it as a gift.’

It’s taken me more than 44 years to get one ring and I don’t want another one, especially not one off the floor. If it was really valuable, then it should have been returned to its owner. I’d be annoyed if I dropped my ring and then someone gifted it to a random passer-by.

‘Hand it in to the police,’ I advised.

Maybe he was used to dealing with greedier and stupider people, or maybe this was just a rubbish con. I suspect that if I accepted the gift I would suddenly be badgered for money. I’d have been more inclined to give him some if he just asked for it, without trying to insult my intelligence at the same time.

He was insistent, but I was equally vehement and eventually he accepted that he was wasting his time and sloped off, feigning anger at my lack of gratitude.

I kept my eye on him and he stopped in front of a couple on a bench, miraculously discovering another lost ring in the dirt. The people of Paris are very careless with their jewellery.

I felt sorry for him, so transparent and unnecessarily complicated was his ruse (he had to buy the rings, fake stamp them and carry them around with him – that’s a lot of work for a beggar) but maybe he makes money because people pity him. The basic same technique was the only way I used to get any sex in the 1990s. Though I wish I’d thought to hand out rings, too. I might have had more success.

Richard Herring is currently touring Britain with his show, What Is Love, Anyway?

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