COLUMN: November 22, 2012

I STOOD in the checkout queue, anxious, waiting for the return of my companion, who had remembered something she had forgotten.

My trolley was full and there were two people in front of me, but the checkout assistant was going at quite a lick.

I was glad I was in Costco, a no-go area for plastic bags. If this had been a conventional supermarket, there would have been no way that I would have been able to get the bags open fast enough to pack without causing a logjam.

I would have had to endure the spectacle of having the assistant open the bags for me, an experience only slightly less humiliating than having somebody fasten my shoelaces for me.

On the other hand, if this had been a conventional supermarket, there would have been a woman with a tabard. Like you, I implicitly trust anybody wearing a tabard. A woman with a tabard would have guided the people at the back of the queue to a different checkout. But I was exposed.

“Come on!” I thought. “It’s going to be my turn next.” I did not want to be placed in the difficult situation of deciding whether to unload my goods onto the conveyor belt, then to hold up the queue while I waited for the wanderer’s return, or to let the person behind me go before me.

This was a true dilemma. The first option would have caused maximum frustration to the people behind me in the queue, and I try to go through life without causing inconvenience to others. This is because I am more a lover than a fighter, which should give you some idea how bad at fighting I am.

The only time I have ever intentionally caused a hold-up in a queue was 10 years ago. The man behind me in the queue was Finland’s greatest ever footballer, Jari Litmanen, who was playing for Liverpool FC at the time.

Litmanen had recently frustrated my own team, Everton, in the derby and I wanted revenge. I had seven items, and spent five whole minutes transferring them from basket to conveyor belt to carrier bag. I appreciate this might appear petty, but that is because you did not see his face gradually assuming the shade of the kit he was not wearing.

The second option was also unsatisfactory. It’s often said that the British are exemplary queuers. But the etiquette of queues is not enshrined in the law of the land.

Basically, I am not sure if I step out of the queue to let the person behind me go next that I will not be lynched if I step back into the queue in front of the next person.

On the face of it, it seems fair enough. The people behind me don’t have to queue any longer. But I have stepped out of the queue, and have lost my moral authority. I am dependent on the goodwill of the people in the queue behind me.

I looked at the queue behind me. It was long. There were two burly men wearing football shirts, with their respective wives. They looked as if their patience was limited. They looked as if they could eat me for breakfast. They looked as if they had eaten somebody for breakfast.

As I vacillated, I realised that Zippy The Zealous Checkout Operator had cleared the decks. What to do? What to do?

My companion returned, dropping the item into my trolley. I was saved. “See you back at the car,” she said, and scarpered. I was safe.

Zippy picked up a packet of six muffins. “You know these are buy one, get one free?” he said. I didn’t. I winced inwardly.

“Yeah, it’s OK. I’ll never get through 12 in time,” I replied

“Seems a shame to lose out,” he said. “You could go back and get them . . .”

I looked back at the men in the queue. I couldn’t help thinking that Jari Litmanen, an actual footballer, didn’t wear a football strip while out shopping, so why should they?

“No, I only wanted six,” I lied. “This isn’t Man Vs Food.”

I don’t think he believed me. I wasn’t wearing a tabard.

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