"I am Italian fashion designer!" excalimed the older of the two guys in the car. "Thank you for helping," he continued in an appropriate accent.
"No problem" I replied, resisting the urge to put an o on the end of every word that hadn't already got one.
"You like Italian clothes?" he asked.
"Of course," I said, wondering what he must make of the dreadfully old-fashioned English stuff I was wearing and hoping he didn't spot the two ASDA £6 jumpers I'd bought earlier on the back seat.
"Let me make you a present." he said, getting out of the car.
"A present?" Now I had spent quite a while drawing maps and explaining the horrors of Hockliffe and how to use the bus lanes to nip past queues on the way and it was freezing cold but the generosity seemed a little over the top. Still, a sample or two I wouldn't say no to.
"I just come from exhibition," he went on, "you can have something from me."
From the back seat he took out a box full of branded shirts which looked very nice. He passed me the box.
"They're nice." I confirmed, thinking that, whilst a bit odd, I would be happy to take them. "Just don't ask me for any money 'cos I haven't got much on me."
Then he produced a beautiful Armani dark pin-stripe suit. I nodded approvingly but doubted it would be my size. That was followed by two leather jackets, heavy, seemingly again top quality stuff which he urged me to feel. While I was feeling the jackets he got a big blue bag and bundled all the jackets, shirts and more things in, took the suit off my hands and put that in too, then passed me the lot.
"All I want is to buy a gift for my son . . ." he began.
I'd kinda guessed some time earlier that this was the classic 'quick sale' I'd heard of but wasn't terribly bothered. I reckoned I was safe and knew I hadn't much cash and he was a cheery, pleasant fellow. I was intrigued to know what figure he'd come up with.
"This suit - it sell for £600. How much do you think these jackets in the store?"
"I guessed around £180"
He seemed quite insulted. "No! these top quality leather. They £500 each!"
So I was holding a bag full of about £2000 worth of goods. Fine, I thought. Now what?
"Just give to me £250 for all!" he suggests. There, the cash line at last.
As it happened I am in serious need of some new clothes and had he produced a pair of size nine shoes I would probably have done a deal. But I know the trouble I have getting trousers to fit and even if the jacket were the right size, which it appeared to be, I just knew the trousers would be useless and probably way too big for even Penny or Katrina to adjust. So, not being a fan of leathario coatios, there wasn't much going for him.
I shook my head and said I didn't have that much cash.
"English people don't carry wads of cash." I proclaimed, trying not to smile at Harry Enfield images flashing across my brain.
"How much you have?"
I'm smart enough to know not to get a wallet out as he'd see the credit cards.
"£80" I guessed
"You can get cash from the machine?" he suggested.
"No. I don't have the card." I lied. "All I have is £80." I hoped that I did actually have that much in case he did agree to give me something for that sum. As long as it wasn't the shirts. They weren't worth £80 to me. I really didn't want to risk the suit but I'd have taken some shoes and the jackets for that.
He took the bag and contents back, reluctantly, and shook my hand. I felt like asking where my present was, being in quite good humour still. He got back into the car after some pleasantries and they were about drive off when I realised I'd lost my car keys.
Without a spare set for this car I didn't actually panic but all sorts of thoughts were rapidly running through my mind now. I had spent a lot of the negotiation time next to some thick bushes in the car park border and that would have been the most likely place they'd have gone. Finding anything in there would be a nightmare. Could he have taken them off me in the banter and exchange of clothes? Was that their aim in the first place? Was anyone around to help? A witness. Anyone?
I put my hand up to stop them leaving. They stopped. Relief number one. I thought quickly. Extremely quickly now I think about it. Amazingly so, in fact.
"I seem to have lost my keys." I said. "If I can get back in my car I may find some more money for you."
It worked. The older man got out and started to look around. I flapped at my pockets. Looking for someone to help if needed I spotted a man on the other side of my car.
"Hello." I said, a bit oddly, hoping to get him involved. Then I realised it was the other chap who had got out to help search.
Now, if they really wanted my keys they'd drive off. They really aren't genuinely on their way to Heathrow and now just being helpful. Either they see a chance of getting a sale after all or desperately need me to find my keys to prevent me making a bit of a scene if they go off. I would be bound to report them and spoil any future sales chances to another unsuspecting bloke in a car park somewhere else. Whichever, they did seem to be genuinely surprised and were helping to look for them. I reckoned it was the latter.
The older one got out the big bag and opened it.
"Look! There - at the bottom!"
Sure enough, there they were, under the suit at the bottom of the bag. Boy, was I relieved! I even quite wanted to buy something but they didn't seem too bothered and left to look for another.
I still think he found them a little quicker than I would have expected and quite how he could see them under the jacket makes me wonder a bit. I checked my other pockets for wallet, phone etc. and even checked my wristwatch was still there.
They went and I went shopping, feeling slightly strange but very, very, very relieved.
I'm not a very religious chap but I did say a big thank you to either the alien or the bloke with the white robe and big beard. If the Italians had innocently driven off with my keys I would have had huge problems. Maybe next time I'll buy the jacket. And a spare key would be good.