Like Spandau Ballet, I bought a ticket to the world. I wish I had paid more attention at the counter, however, because there was a misprint – I hesitate to say whether it was accidental or deliberate – and what I had actually bought was a ticket to the wold. Now, I am as much an aficionado of ranges of hills consisting of open country overlying a base of limestone or chalk as the next man, but my ticket did not specify which wold I could gain admittance to. I assumed it would be a wold within the Lincolnshire Wolds or the Yorkshire Wolds or the Cotswolds, but could narrow it down no further. I suppose I could have gone back to the kiosk where I bought the ticket, but frankly the person behind the counter frightened the wits out of me. Without going into details, just imagine a combination of Rolf Harris, Douglas Bader, and Beelzebub, and you will have some idea why I hadn’t stopped shuddering for a week.
For it was indeed a whole week before I was able to really put my mind to working out which wold to go to. There were so many distractions, apart from the shuddering. I had to deal with albinos, bloating, crises (six in number, like Nixon), Dungeness moths, embranglements, flotillas, grease, hens, ice maidens, jigsaw puzzles, kinetic sculptures, lemonade, and monkeys, to say nothing of the second half of the alphabet. It was a wonder to me that the issues I had to deal with presented themselves in such an intractable order. I was impatient for W to fall due, because I thought I would then be able to investigate the wold, but an influx of wax put paid to that fond hope.
Eventually, having managed with some panache to tip a zombie off the end of the pier, I took my ticket out of my pocket and gave it a closer look. Surely there must be some indication, in the wording, regarding the wold it was a ticket to? But no. I even put it under a microscope, when I paid a visit to a lab, for other reasons, of which you need not be apprised, for you know nothing of science, at least not of the science that concerned me, which is my own special field, buster!
After poring pointlessly over gazetteers for hours upon end, it suddenly occurred to me that the wold referred to on my ticket was not a place but a person. Could it be what I needed to pass through the cemetery gates to visit the tomb of Terje Wold, the Norwegian politician who died in 1972, or the grave of Herman Wold, the Swedish statistician who met his maker twenty years later? It might even be a ticket to grant me an audience with a living Wold, Erling Wold the American composer or, on the same continent, the politician John S Wold, or, back in Scandinavia, among the living rather than the dead, Susse Wold, the Danish actress?
A trip to the United States or Norway or Sweden or Denmark would cost rather more than going to Lincolnshire or Yorkshire or the Cots, so I made an appointment to see my bank manager. He is almost as frightening as the man who sold me my ticket, but in a different way, not so much Harris and Bader and Beelzebub as Ringo Starr with indigestion and a sniper’s rifle. But needs must when the devil drives.
So there I was, sitting in the bank waiting to see Mr Tugendhat, clutching my ticket to the wold in the fruitless hope that all would become clear when, unexpectedly, all became clear. Sitting next to me was a pale spotty teenperson to whom I suspected shampoo was a rare and inexplicable substance. He turned to me and said:
“Wow. You lucky git, innit.”
I overlooked his ungrammatical infelicity and asked wherein lay my good fortune.
“You’ve got a ticket to the Wold,” he said.
“I have indeed, young whippersnapper,” I replied, with the easy bonhomie I deploy with young whippersnappers, “And I would be luckier still if I knew which was the wold in question.”
“Well that’s obvious, innit?” he said, grammatically this time, “See that little runic symbol in the corner? It’s a ticket to the Wold in Middle Earth, the area north of Rohan!”
“Are you speaking to me of Tolkien?” I shrieked, almost vomiting.
“Too right, grandad,” he said.
Without a word, I thrust the ticket into his hand and staggered out of the bank, disorientated and bedizened and sick. After a week of shuddering, just when I thought things were looking up, I was cast into black and bottomless despair. I took to my bed, and have been there ever since. As I toss and turn and gnaw my pillow, I wonder how a tiny misprint could have turned my simple and innocent desire to emulate Spandau Ballet into the nightmare of traumatic Tolkieny twaddle.