Thwack! The old woman's umbrella hit the rain-sodden pavement with a light splash and immediately cast me onto the horns of a dilemma.
The scene unfolded thus: a strikingly tall lady about eighty years old was walking towards me on an otherwise empty street when her brolly slipped from her grasp and hit the deck crisply. Whatever was I to do? "Pick it up for her, you fool!" I hear you cry. The trouble is, things weren't quite that simple. She was accompanied by a much younger man, possibly her son, which made the whole scenario a great deal more awkward. Any chap worth his salt knows that you should never step into another man's chivalry scenario and that there's an unspoken pecking order to these things. It was quite clearly his role to resolve the stricken umbrella situation. Unfortunately, in the few seconds that had elapsed by now, he hadn't shown the slightest interest in fulfilling his duty. Whatever was I to do? To hell with it, I thought, I'll return the object in question to the frail grasp of the poor despondent woman and risk the bother of being challenged to a terribly inconvenient pistols-at-dawn duel the following morning for my impertinence.
I was bracing myself to lurch downwards and incur the young man's wrath when something quite extraordinary occurred. The woman swung out one leg horizontally behind her, leaning forward with one of her arms outstretched while the other hand homed in on the brolly which she duly swept up with an elegance not seen since Margot Fonteyn in her heyday, before returning to an upright position, having barely broken her stride, and continuing on her merry way. I was half expecting a pas de deux to round things off. The man briefly flicked his eyebrows upwards at me as if to say "It's always happening, what can I do?" as he too strolled off into the evening twilight.
She must surely have been a dancer when she was younger, I thought, or, judging by that performance, maybe she still was. Now I understood her companion's reluctance to pick up the umbrella - experience had taught him that he was, frankly, a redundant bystander in these matters as, indeed, was I. Thank heavens I hadn't grunted and puffed myself onto my haunches to complete the task in a manner which, let's be honest, wouldn't have been quite so becoming of Rudolf Nureyev.
I tootled home with an unexpected spring in my step, though it was of nothing compared to the exquisite spring in the step of the tall, elegant woman, I can assure you.