As a teenager my parents used to accuse me of attracting strange characters; As the lights dimmed in screen 8 of Cineworld in Bradford, I couldn't help but agree. The large cinema was almost empty with a few couples dotted around. As normal, I'd managed to avoid the mandatory 20 minutes of adverts and trailers in order to skip the infuriating Orange intro. I'd chosen to sit centrally near the back and was just getting comfortable when a heavily laden figure entered the cinema. The film had just begun and rather than quickly finding a seat, the latecomer snaked between rows, occasionally stopping to look at the screen. I could have predicted his next move.
Despite their being dozens of empty rows, he walked towards the back and rather than selecting an empty one, chose mine. To top this, he decided to sit one seat away from me, loudly sharing his thoughts about the film. After about 10 minutes of maniacal laughter and commentary, he abruptly got up, leaving his coat behind. Having read enough "report abandoned item" signs before on trains and in the tube, warning alarms began to ring and I wondered how long is customary to wait before alerting staff.
I'd just managed to settle back down when a man near the front shouted at the parents to my right to silence their children or leave. The unexpected bravery and drama of his complaint momentarily distracted me from the problem of the coat but then he returned. I tried not to look at him but could see him nodding and smiling at me from the corner of my eye, adding to my already growing discomfort.
Having seen the film years ago, I'm finally reading John Irving's excellent The World According to Garp and can't help but think of Jenny Field's cinema incident. In the book, Garp's mother, Jenny, is hit on by a soldier in a darkened cinema and ends up stabbing him with a surgical knife when he fails to take the hint. I don't carry a knife and even if I did, I doubt I'd use it but I'm still slightly fearful of this man's intentions. Thankfully, he suddenly gets up again, leaving a pile of bags. I'm still trying not to look at him but then he speaks. "Can you watch my stuff?" he unexpectedly asks.
This altogether peculiar behaviour doesn't go unnoticed. As he leaves the cinema, I make eye-contact with a sympathetic looking couple sitting to my left and they seem just as confused. When he re-enters the room moments later, we look at each other again, knowingly sharing a moment before he's close enough to spot us.
It's not long before I sense movement next to me and I instantly think of Jenny Fields again. After all, I have had Italian men expose themselves to me when asking for directions in Rome and suffered through an uncomfortable National Express journey from Leeds to London as the man next to me masturbated beneath a newspaper. I sneak a look and I'm grateful to see he's merely draped the offending coat over the chair next to me, rather than moved closer. His bizarre to-ing and fro-ing in and out of the cinema continues for another half hour and it's only when he speaks again leaning nearer to me that I smell the unmistakeable stench of booze breath. As the film credits start to role, I propel myself from my seat and I'm out of there before he has time to collect his many bags, keen to avoid any further communication.