Paperbacks, Politics and Pertwee Pants

25/01/2012 15:13 GMT | Updated 26/03/2012 10:12 BST

It took me a while to find out that Russell Hoban had died. Sadly, the author of one of the finest books in the not-quite-English language passed away in December, aged 86.

Coincidentally I had just read his final novel, Angelica Lost and Found, that classic tale of hippogriff-meets-girl, hippogriff-loses-girl, hippogriff-travels-from-imagination-of-dead-author-into-present-day-and-flies-from-Rome-to-San-Francisco-in-the-body-of-a-pizzeria-owner-to-get-girl, hippogriff-gets-girl, hippogriff-loses-girl-again, hippogriff... well, you get the idea.

Hoban didn't die while I was reading the book. He waited until I had leant the book to a friend. And then he died.

Oddly, something similar (in the loosest sense of the word) happened to me some time ago.

Back in the summer of 1996, when New Labour was still in opposition and Britpop was at its height, a friend of mine had a friend of his who was about to celebrate their 18th birthday. My friend had racked his brains and his resources and come up with what he hoped would prove an appropriate present.

Knowing that I worked in a copy shop (yes, gentle reader, back in those years of transition--in an age much like the one depicted in Hoban's Riddley Walker, if memory serves--when social media meant renting a VHS, the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and Doctor Who was a television programme best left back in the 80s, there were places on the high street you could go to buy photocopies, or get business cards printed, or have a piece of paper laminated. You could even pay to have someone (eg me) wirobound that Annual Report for you. The ghosts of some of these even haunt the cracks in our world still: KallKwik, the Prontaprint, The Color [sic] Company, etc. And I worked in one, though not in any of the above.

So my friend called me up. Most probably from a land line (mobile phones were about to take over the world, and people had finally stopped calling them 'carphones', but not many people I knew had one) and he asked me the following question: "Do you print on underpants?"

"No," I said. "But I know somewhere that might."

So off I went at lunchtime, white Y-fronts in hand and, perhaps a little flushed in the cheeks, I asked the woman behind the counter of one of our competitors whether the same process they used to print on t-shirts could indeed be applied to a pair of Marks & Spencer's finest. "Sure," she said. "What is it you'd like printed on them?"

"This," I said, and along with the pants I handed something else to her. Possibly it was a floppy disk.

"Come back about five," she said. Which I did. But something altogether surprising happened between one o'clock and five that afternoon, and that was that Jon Pertwee died.

I wasn't at the party where the pants were finally unveiled, but I like to think all those teenagers who were there raised a can of cider to the man who had once made a scarecrow come to life for so many children.

Do you have a point, or did you just want to tell me about this bizarre and rather morbid coincidence, you think to yourself.

Well, actually, I just wanted to see if anyone fancied borrowing my copy of Tony Blair's memoirs?