For a brief few minutes today, we found ourselves whirled around in the maelstrom of the Christmas buying frenzy. Though we are able to recognise the signs, and are therefore able to avoid getting too close to those centres of commercial magnetism that exert the strongest pull, spinning the most powerful vortices, we were trying to track down something specific and had been unsuccessful in finding it at any of our local independent shops.
Taking a deep breath, and hoping not to be recognised by anyone, we went into the local supermarket. Instantly, we were tossed about on a sea of madness. Everywhere there were stern-faced shoppers pushing trolleys or brandishing wire baskets, some ignoring the miserable children tugging at their coat sleeves, others ignoring everyone and scowling malevolently at anyone who dared obstruct their right of passage.
Just to add to the general merriment, a couple of the aisles were blocked by pallets (and the pallet trucks that had brought them) the contents of which were being unloaded and stacked on the shelves by stupefied employees, seemingly unaware of the chaos their activities were causing and indifferent to the general mayhem pervading the store.
We found the one item we were looking for, and proceeded to the checkouts with sinking hearts in anticipation of the huge queues that we knew would be building up.
Fighting our way past the extra obstacles that appear around this time of year – product gondolas filled with sweets and chocs, point of sale displays of drinks promotions, plastic smiling santas and the like – we finally emerged in the checkout area. As expected, each checkout had spawned a switching tail of impatient shoppers whose pent-up rage at being kept waiting was almost palpable.
Except for one. At the end of the line was the ’10 items or less’ checkout. The only person anywhere near it was the semi-somnolent till operator, elbow on the scanner, chin on upturned palm, eyelids drooping over glazing eyes. We thought that our sudden appearance in front of her, clutching our single item, might provoke a spot of light-hearted banter. But no.
Our sudden appearance in front of her merely acted like a remote control. She clicked into immediate automated action, her hand passing the one item over the scanner and depositing it on the other side of the till to be bagged up.
“One forty-nine, please,” she said flatly, opening a bag in readiness.
“Don’t worry about the bag.”
She looked at us blankly and gave Sal her change from £1.50.
“One pee,” she said, as flatly as before.
“Merry Christmas,” I offered.
But answer came there none.