This is the second time in two days that it’s happened. I don’t honestly recall if it’s ever taken place before. Not in this manner, at least.
Let me set the general tone of the piece for you. I’m a 44-year-old, six-foot three white man. My clothes make me look bigger than I am, but I’m by no means skinny (bicep-deficit aside). On both occasions, I'm wearing black cargo pants, not the hard fabric ones, but a nice soft, loose material. I also had on my black jacket of a bomber style cut. My oversized brown leather messenger bag from TK Maxx finished off my outfit. Except the obligatory face mask, of course. This is still 2020. The time is around eight o’clock at night, the weather is that bitterly cold December freeze that we always forget about each December. It’s like Christmas.
Somehow, despite me warning everyone that ‘it’ll soon be Christmas’ nobody sees it until it’s merely weeks away. That’s why there’s such a rush at the shops for presents and food. Plus there’s never enough time to wrap the gifts or to find the end of the Sellotape. Me, though? I start my Chrimbo physical actions around July and August. That’s when I start shopping; I’ve already given myself about four months to think about what I'm going to be buying by this point. For any large purchases, I start researching the costs and find out if there are any planned updates or new releases in the pipeline. Perhaps, maybe my thoughts have altered. But come Black Friday, I know exactly what I’m getting and how much of a bargain I can achieve. There’s always room for any last-minute diverting away from any existing plan, and because of the early start I have given myself enough time to deal with it in a calm and dignified approach. It’s exactly the same whenever I book to go away. Unless I find myself with not enough preparation time. That’s when I switch into my special elite mission mode and become blinkered and focused on the task at hand. Like the olden days of homework, and the more recent days of university assignments.
So, there I am, walking around a supermarket (both times) and I simply cannot decide on what to get for a quick snack to tide me over until I have my protein shake in the morning for breakfast. Sometimes, too much choice is nice. I don’t know when that is, although I suspect that it is nice at some time. The first supermarket, which I shall call Oldi for the time being, is where I go shopping every Sunday afternoon. I also frequent this shop at various points throughout the month, much like I did on this particular Monday evening. What I like about these supermarkets, produce and price aside, is the regularity of the staff. Such a low turnover in the two years that it’s been going. It’s actually nice to see the same faces - it happens with the branch down the road from where I work. So much so that when I had my crutches, they were rather upset by it. And more recently, one of the cashiers left her station to come and say hello to me as she’d not seen me for a while.
This is a little different to the other supermarket that I went into the following day. On that occasion, despite having been in there last week for a product that they don’t sell and then once more four days prior to grab myself a baguette and apricot jam, it was only my third visit in over eight months. Here, I don’t recognise anyone, I feel an air of despondency, dejection and desperation. However, when called into action by a member of public, their posture alters and their faces obtain smiles gained from the break of their monotonous pursuit of simply getting through to pay day. There’s something to be said for routine, yet there’s a lot more to be said for having that rush of excitement when something unexpected comes your way - like being asked where the creme de marron is kept.
On my first trip to Paris in recent years (I initially went about 15 years ago), things were a little crazy. There had been a spate of incidents throughout the year and the city felt hindered by it. It wasn’t going to stop being Paris, but the air was certainly filled with trepidation. I knew things were different and that’s without having hindsight. Looking back now, things have certainly changed and yet, on a different level, things remain the same. On my last visit - four months ago from the time of writing this - we had just come out of the first lockdown and people were milling around as usual; except there were a lot less of them. And with a greater distance between them. Facemasks weren’t being worn as much as they are now but there had been a concerted effort to enable external eating as opposed to having coffee inside. In December of 2017, when I walked into Galeries Lafeyette, after taking photos of their Christmas windows along Boulevard Haussmann, opposite the Palais Garnier, I was stopped by the door staff. I wasn’t the only one having my bag searched and that was fine. I didn’t take it personally. I can’t say for certain whether I looked more like a terrorist or a tourist, but regardless, I let them carry on with their duties. I mean, in fairness, I had very little choice; I don’t speak enough French to cite my rights. Seriously though, this was okay by me. I’d rather everyone get searched and we all be fine than nobody gets their bags looked at and we all get blown up. That said, I’ve performed a more thorough search in my jacket pocket looking for a house brick.
When my brother was about fifteen or sixteen, I would have been around twelve or thirteen. We may both been a little younger than that. I remember being downstairs in Boots in Ilford. We used to frequent this store most Saturdays as my dad would take us to Ilford in order for some fresh air and to simply walk around the shops. Boots’ ground-floor was where the computer games and cameras were. It was a magical place during a magical time. It wasn’t an XBox versus Playstation kind of time, it was post-Spectrum versus Commodore; this was the Sega versus Nintendo era.
We would often be left alone to wonder around the individual shops together whilst Dad would be doing whatever it was he wanted to be doing. We’d be given a set duration and meet back up once it had expired. It worked well, built trust and independence, and stopped us from all annoying one another. On this one occasion, my generally placid brother would blow a fuse in the most unexpected way toward an unsuspecting member of the public. It was not like him at all, honestly out of character as far as I was aware. But it appears that this could have been a catalyst for his outbursts in later life.
The thing about memories, is that they tend to lead from one topic to another, much like freewriting does. I learnt about freewriting during my Open University studies. It’s a real thing where one simply writes. Freely. In the truest sense of freewriting, you put pen to paper and let the words, as clichéd as it is, flow. You don’t need to worry about punctuation, grammar, spelling or even direction. It’s a liberating sensation. And from there, you can pick up bits that you want, tidy up the grammatics and start your first proper draft.
I was on holiday with my brother ages ago, even before the Ilford incident, and I recall playing an arcade game (remember those?). Whilst I was stood there, feeding the machine aiming to finally complete the game, I noticed there were a group of three girls, all dressed in denim. I lovingly refer back to them as the punks. I felt an unease like they were going to take my coins from the pocket of my body warmer. This sent my mind racing and my reflexes went all over the shop. I lost my focus, died in the game and didn’t insert a coin to continue, despite how many times the machine begged me with its flashing yellow letters. It’s here that things get fuzzy as I’m attempting to relay a memory from around thirty years ago. I have no idea of the dialogue that was exchanged and to replicate a false memory would be sacrilegious to my text.
What I do know is that through my brother’s intervention, it transpired that the girls were watching another girl, wearing a black dress, try to take my coins from the pocket of my body warmer. Their movements weren’t to infringe but protect. This whole contretemps was the catalyst that caused me to never cast aspersions toward a publication simply by its encasement.
Back to Boots and the moment my brother lost his cool. Not his Danny Zuko cool, but his temper cool. We were in the line at the perfume counter to pay for a game that we were buying. Behind us was no-one. In front, an elderly lady of around 60 years of age. In fairness, she may have been 70, but at that stage of my life, everyone with grey hair and a face full of lived-in lines was both old and at least 60. She had with her a shopping trolley of the kind my nan uses to go to the post office with. I expect it was a different pattern. The elderly lady stops with her purse in her hand and look sat my brother, square in the face.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
‘What do you mean?’ came the reply.
‘You were going to take something from my trolley,’ she said accusingly.
More words are shared, emotions are high, security guards are called, explanations are given, purchases are made and apologies from shop workers are given to myself and my brother. Yet the damage had already been done.
And what has this Boots anecdote to do with me and my recent supermarket visits? False accusations. I was approached by the bespectacled security guard in Oldi who had seen me walk up and down the aisles without buying anything. If he’d been paying closer attention, he would not only have known that I am a regular purchaser of goods from this store, but I was also the one that stood shoulder to shoulder with him whilst he was being shouted at for simply doing his job. He would have also seen that I didn’t get close enough to any items to touch them, let alone slip them into my brown messenger bag that was slung over my shoulder. What I think caused his reaction was the fact that I attempted to leave the store via an uncharted route. He verbally attempted to restrain me. I gave him my attention and stopped. I also put my bag on the shelf before he could ask me to. He then asked me to show him inside and, as quickly as I lifted the flap, he’d made his mind up that I was innocent. It’s fine, I didn’t have an issue with his approach, just the fact that he wasn’t actually paying enough attention to realise that I hadn’t done anything.
I told him it was fine after he told me it was okay. No apology given and to be fair, I’ll probably still stand shoulder to shoulder with him whilst he gets verbally attacked next time. And I know he will. Again. Despite only doing his job.
And what of the second time? I popped into “Weightprose” for much the same reason as I’d gone into Oldi. I wanted something to eat as a quick snack to tide me over until my protein shake for breakfast. Yet again, inspiration had left with my motivation to eat. I attempted to leave the store via an unchartered route. However, the gap between the customer service counter and the security guard was a little narrower than I anticipated. In order to avoid any physical contact, I ducked forward and raised the messenger bag so it jumped up my back slightly. Essentially, I skipped past the security guard like a demented turtle. It wasn’t the most delicate of movements, nor was it the most inconspicuous of actions. If I were to make an educated guess, I would say it was the smacking of my bag against his hip that made him request my cessation. His enquiry of my wellbeing led to my response of an adulated affirmative. I then saw the look in his eye and decided I should explain that nothing took my fancy. Which luckily did the trick and I was free to head to the International Supermarket down the road (where, again, I didn’t actually buy anything).
So, whilst this sort of thing doesn’t normally happen, without the quick succession of events, these prior memories would’ve laid dormant for a little while longer. That means that I certainly wouldn’t have felt the compulsion to put this down on paper and thereby ascertaining when my brother decided to hate being accused falsely of anything.
Similarly, it was nice to be able to go back and find out why I’m such a non-judgemental person at the first viewing.