I was in Marks and Spencer – you may have heard of it, it’s a large store which sells clothes for people who’ve lost interest in fashion; I’ve been shopping there for years – when I spied a selection of frozen food on half-price.
It was clearly stuff that had been left over from Christmas – sausage rolls, spring rolls, prawns in something called tempura batter (which looked like normal batter but adding the word tempura presumably gives it an air of mystery and makes the massive price tag easier to justify) – but it was quite a good deal, a fiver down to £2.50.
I didn’t need any of this food – I don’t even like prawns, they give me terrible wind – but it seemed a bargain and I figured that on the off-chance we were to host a party in the foreseeable future, it was the kind of thing we could shove on a plate in the lounge for guests to nibble on (‘I say Steve, that batter tastes beautiful. “Yes Dave, it’s tempura – lovely isn’t it”).
After adding a few more items to my basket – bread, yoghurt, Mrs Canavan’s upper lip hair removal cream – I headed to the till where I was served by a woman who I think last smiled around the time of the Falklands War.
The term businesslike doesn’t do her justice. She treated me less like a customer, more contagious infection.
Anyway, I paid my bill, and although I do remember thinking ‘that was a tad more expensive than expected’, I was in the kind of trance that comes after a long, joyless day at work and went back to my car and drove home.
It was only on unpacking my goods and glancing at the receipt in the act of hurling it into the bin that I noticed they had changed me full price for the half-price food.
Now this was intensely annoying as had the grub been full-price I wouldn’t even have glanced at it. I mean do I look the type of guy to spend £5 on tempura prawns? I balk at spending £5 on a new pair of trousers.
‘What are you muttering at?’ asked Mrs Canavan.
I told her. ‘You should have checked before you left the shop you idiot,’ she said, sympathetically.
I put the receipt on the mantelpiece, thinking I’d bob back to store on my way home from work the following evening.
But as I sat in the lounge watching Greg Wallace gurn his way through an incredibly dull documentary about mayonnaise (did you see it? I have never witnessed one man get so animated about a machine that separates egg yolks from the whites), I simply couldn’t rest.
The whole injustice of it was playing on my mind.
Within three minutes, I could stand it no more and announced to Mrs Canavan I was heading back to M&S.
Not for the first time she looked at me as if wondering why she hadn’t filed for divorce years ago.
I strode into the shop with confidence, but then faltered. The cashier would realise I had driven all the way back just to retrieve the £3.50 I had been over-charged and think I was a right saddo, so I decided to make a purchase, to cunningly give the impression I’d actually only come back because I’d forgotten something.
I grabbed some broccoli and asparagus – £3 – and headed to the same cashier.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said (why was I apologising?), ‘but I’ve been charged full price for the first two items on this receipt when I think (nervous chuckle) they should be half price’.
“What?” the woman behind the till said. She was a charmer.
I repeated what I thought had been a pretty clear statement, then added, ‘and to top it all, I forgot to buy broccoli and asparagus, so I had to come back anyway’.
She shot me a look of utter contempt, then wordlessly jabbed at the pad on her till and said ‘we’ll refund you £3.50 – tap your card against the machine’.
“Erm, I’m really sorry but the tapping thing doesn’t work, I’ll have to put it in,” I replied. This is true, most likely because I keep my card in my pocket and most of the magnetic strip has rubbed off. I’ve been meaning to order a replacement for about the last 19 months but have yet to get round to it.
The cashier – who was, weirdly, wearing gloves, like a serial killer might – audibly sighed. ‘Put your card in,’ she barked.
“Have you charged me for the broccoli and asparagus?” I asked. She looked at me as if about to leap over the counter and batter me with a baseball bat, and said, “yes, I’m refunding the remaining 50 pence we owe you to your card you pathetic little man”. (The last four words I may have added in for dramatic effect).
It was only as I exited the store that I realised she hadn’t once apologised for what was their mistake. At about the same moment I realised I had wasted an hour of my evening getting 50 pence back into my account.
I feel as though I may need to get a life, and to top it all I still have no idea what tempura means.
Useful side effect of ageing
As some of you may know, I have been suffering from a chest infection and a cough and a cold for several months now.
In fact I have already mentioned this in a previous column and I cannot tell you how many get well soon cards I was inundated with from kindly readers. Actually I can tell you – absolutely none at all. Thanks for your sympathy.
Anyway, my condition worsened over the last week and I was sent for a chest X-ray at hospital.
Afterwards, I went to visit my mum, with my football kit in hand for I always play football on a Friday night.
On spying the kit, she went berserk, saying there was no way I could play football after going to hospital for an X-ray.
After I told her in no uncertain terms that I was playing (I mean if you’re ill, far better to do something you like rather than be sat at home feeling sorry for yourself), my mother – always one to be a tad dramatic – screamed at me, “go ahead then, you deserve to die”.
She also told me she would never speak to me again.
Anyhow, long story short, I played (and scored a hat-trick – including a superb left-footer from 20 yards, top corner, keeper didn’t have a chance) and when I returned to her house later she said, “hi love, did you enjoy it, I’ve made you some tea”.
That’s the great thing about folk of a certain age – they have no recollection of anything they said a couple of hours prior. God bless her.