27 October, 2006

Basket cases

I've always found one of the best things about taking an entire week off work is the chance to do usual domestic tasks at unusual times.

This may sound like a pathetically trivial pleasure, but believe me, getting to go to my local Tesco on a weekday morning as opposed to the evening or on weekends is a completely different experience.

The mood in the shop is far more relaxed and accommodating. There are less people about. There are more goods on the shelves. And the people who are going about their business are classically colourful characters.

This morning at the frozen food counter I was hailed by a lady in a long purple mac*. She wanted to know, apropos nothing whatsoever, whether the vegetarian sausages I'd just added to my basket were "any good."

Glossing over the fact that I certainly wouldn't be putting them into my basket were they not any good, I politely replied that I could vouch for their tastiness and would happily recommend them to meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike. "Though I've been a vegetarian so long now I can't remember what real meat tastes like," I added jovially. "Oooh, you should try some," the lady countered unhelpfully, before continuing, "well, I suppose I'll give them a go. You never know, I might like them."

Which is true, of course: I will never know, because even were I to see this woman again, from a distance across many aisles, I would try to avoid her. It's just not the done thing to find yourself having two conversations with the same stranger when out shopping.

Anyway she was being accompanied around Tesco by an older woman who I guessed was her mother, and was one of those types who insist on reading out loud every piece of information on every piece of packaging they spy on the shelves.

Then when I got to the checkout the person on the till insisted on regaling me with how she "never shops at Tesco" preferring "Sainsbury's and Waitrose". She seemed pleased that I didn't own a Tesco Clubcard. "I don't want the shop knowing all my personal details," I explained. "Quite right too," the woman responded. "Although they have mine, because I work here. Funny that!"

Not really, I thought. But this sort of thing is what I've come to expect when shopping on a weekday. You find yourself engaged in that increasingly rare art of spontaneous polite conversation. Admittedly those with whom you are conversing are perhaps not the most articulate of folk, but then they probably see me, a single sad-looking man, and think: the poor lonely soul, he could do with cheering up with a bit of easy banter. And sure enough, harmless chatter duly ensues.

*Now there's a sentence you'd previously only encounter emanating from the mouth of Victoria Wood.


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