COLUMN: February 11, 2016

I DEVELOPED a headache in the office, which, frankly, is the only rational response to life in 2016. But, because I work for a living, I was unable to take to a darkened room with a cold compress on my forehead while being sympathetically nursed.

Consequently I had to buy tablets and struggle on like the hero I am. But the problem with headache tablets is that they are so damn cheap these days, and all my shrapnel was in the pocket of my other trousers. Nor did I have any folding cash about my person.

I did, of course, have a cash card, but it feels wrong to buy anything that costs less than, say, £1.50 with a piece of plastic. You can almost hear the electronic card reader sigh: “Really? I have to contact his bank for the sake of 49p? It’s going to cost us 50p for the transaction. Can’t we just give it to him? He obviously needs it more than us. Look at him. He only has two pairs of trousers.”

And so, in order to avoid annoying an inanimate object, I made my way to a cash machine, my head throbbing like a speaker at a Foo Fighters gig.

There was a single person at the machine when I arrived, peering intently at the screen as if it displayed one of those magic eye patterns and if she looked hard enough she would find that she had enough money in her account.

Good, I thought, she is the only person here and there are only six options on the menu, so even if she goes through each one of them I still have a fighting chance of buying tablets before this headache spontaneously ends.

I took up position behind her, leaving an appropriate gap between us, finding that sweet spot which allows people to pass between us, and prevents me from reading how much is in her account, but is still close enough for it to be obvious I am next in the queue.

For I have been burned before, when a complete idiot took up position in the gap before me, and I was reminded of this as I waited for the woman to just flipping hurry up. Honestly, I thought as I reminisced, what sort of utter buffoon would step into the gap between the person at the cash machine and the next person in the queue?

Somebody tapped me on the shoulder. “Scuse me, mate,” he said, in a tone which suggested that he did not really consider me his friend. “I’m next.”

“Sorry, mate,” I said, persisting with the fiction that we were BFFs. What with this and last week’s hugging ordeal, which occurred on the very same street, I have had quite a lot of difficulty with imposed and unexpected intimacy recently.

I could not let it go, probably because I had a headache. “To be fair,” I said, as I stepped aside, “you were standing quite a long way away from the cash machine. I’m not sure how I was supposed to know. I didn’t even see you.”

“You need better glasses, mate,” said my new friend, and he stepped forward to the machine. While I waited I resolved that, when I am inevitably put in charge of everything, I would place some sort of holding pen, with a queuing system, at every cash machine to prevent arguments.
Eventually I reached the machine, intending to withdraw £10, but Friendly Terry The Inept Queuer had taken the last one, which meant I had to withdraw a £20 note.

I went into the shop, picked up a 49p box of ibuprofen, and joined the lunchtime queue curling around the shelves. Slowly I shuffled forward, my head banging, as if my brain were trying to escape through my right eye socket, and five minutes later I arrived at the checkout.

I handed over the small box of tablets. “Do you need a bag?” the assistant asked. I sized up the small pocket-sized box. “No thank you,” I said.

“That’s 49p,” said the assistant. I pulled the £20 note from my wallet. “Ooh,” she said, as she opened the till, “have you got anything smaller?”

I felt a tear prickle my eye. “No, no, I haven’t,” I said. She started to look in the drawer, and proceeded to remove 19 pound coins. “I’ve… I’ve got a cash card,” I said.

She shoved the drawer shut. “Yeah, that’s fine,” she said.

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