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Close encounter

So there I was yesterday lunchtime getting on a tube at Oxford Circus on my way to Victoria and home, when I overhear the words ‘Rialto’ and ‘RSPB’ in the conversation to my right. Then, as one of the men in the group turned around I saw his luggage tag with what looked like a ‘The Rialto’ business card.

Could this be.. Michael Mackmin, legendary editor of the aforementioned first class poetry mag? Standing right next to me? I had 2 stops to make up my mind – do I say “excuse me, are you Michael Mackmin?” or maybe the less certain “excuse me, you’re not Michael Mackmin are you by any chance?”

I’ve done this sort of thing before and made an idiot of myself. Once in a restaurant I approached a party of jovial diners with a prominent flag on their table and asked them where in Germany they were from, only to be told they were Belgian, and I had mistaken their flag. But then again, as a teenager I was a tenacious autograph hunter, with no qualms about asking a tennis player to sign his name on my outstretched arm, or nabbing a famous footballer as he waited for his wife outside the toilets at Wimbledon.

So what’s the matter with me? I’m grown up now! Just say hello! What’s the worst that can happen? He answers “Er … no…” and thinks I’m a weird person who talks to strangers on tube trains. Or “Er … yes” and total embarassment from him while I say something gushing about “I thought so – I love your magazine and you gave me my first break and I’m eversograteful!” Or even “I thought so! I couldn’t help but overhear and then I saw your luggage tag…” making me sound like some sort of stalker – I mean, how likely is it in a city of millions that a poetry editor should have a chance encounter with a lowly contributor/reader outside of a poetry reading?

Time was nearly up. I looked at him again, I think I caught his eye. He looked very stern. Probably already had me marked as a weirdo. I wasn’t even sure it was him. But it must be him – how big is the Rialto? Surely there’s only him and Nathan Hamilton who I know is younger… but there are probably others…I hesitated. I hesitated and I wimped out. I said nothing –  NOTHING!

I then relived and replayed the moment in my mind for rest of the day, especially as I quickly found out that he was indeed in London to judge the RSPB/Rialto competition. Couldn’t I have just said hello???

I shared the experience with a poet friend, who admitted she wouldn’t have said anything either. Not only that, but “he’s a poet too – he would have hated it” – which actually made me feel a lot better. I had saved Michael Mackmin from a horribly embarassing moment. Which perhaps is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to him after all.

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  1. This made me laugh. I once went up to Alan Rusbridger at a party and said “I really love your paper!” expecting him to say “Wow! Thank you!” and he, naturally, looked at me like the tipsy idiot I was. But, on the whole, I think you SHOULD approach people and tell them if they’ve had a positive affect on your life. I’m sure you would have been more articulate than I was and, it might have been embarrassing, but afterwards MM would have had a warm glow inside (possibly!).

  2. Thanks Josephine – yes it probably wouldn’t have been a disaster, I think I was just a bit too flummoxed to think clearly!

  3. […] I almost introduced myself to Maurice Riordan, but then what would I have said to him? I actually don’t have a great track record of this sort of thing. Plus I’d had two three glasses of wine by this point and we all know what happens when […]

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Robin Houghton 2021
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