LAST week, while I was pleading with the Undecided not to chuck 75 years of progress down the toilet just so that Iain Duncan Smith can make you work a 14-hour day, I mentioned a terrible woman I had encountered in the supermarket.
Since then, my postbag – I have a postbag, shush – has been divided into three categories: people thanking me for writing last week’s column, people telling me I am an utter disgrace for writing last week’s column, and people saying, “Never mind about the biggest political decision we will ever make, to be made in an atmosphere of toxic misinformation, tell us about this terrible woman.”
Admittedly what happened was partly my fault. I had entered the mini supermarket in need of toothpaste and kitchen roll, and so I shunned the baskets at the entrance. I am lucky enough to have two decent hands, and I considered that even I could manage those two items without a basket.
Unfortunately I had forgotten that mini supermarkets are designed to take advantage of people like me, people who remember that they have run out of things only when they see replacements on the shelf, people who are pathologically incapable of writing shopping lists, and even if they did, would forget six things.
And so, as usual, as I passed through the shop I acquired items as efficiently as a Ronco lint remover picks up fluff from polyester jackets.
“I need a basket,” I thought, trying to see between the tin of cling peaches and French-style baguette the pile of stuff in my hands had placed in front of my face. But the baskets were situated conveniently at the entrance, and to reach them I would have had to go through the security scanner, and then, no doubt, explain myself in the interview room of a police station.
Slowly I manoeuvred the Great Pyramid of Gazza through the store, hoping that the washing-up liquid would not come free from its supporting position, making the largest man-made supermarket-based structure in history collapse.
I joined the queue. There were two people at the automated checkouts, and a line the length of an Olympic-standard swimming pool snaking its way to the manned tills. I chose poorly. I chose the automated checkouts.
Through the gap in my groceries, I could see on the right-hand checkout a woman with a lanyard dealing with a number of items. On the left was a young man who had done something extraordinary. He had gone into a supermarket and bought one thing.
Technically, I suppose it was six things – a six-pack of yogurt – but it would only have accounted for one item on a shopping list. I wondered, as I often do, why yogurts and variety packs of cereal never come in sevens.
The woman with the lanyard was experiencing some difficulty – mostly because she was buying booze at an automated checkout – but the light was flashing above her station, and she would soon have help.
The young man finished his transaction, scooped up his yogurt, and left. I was next in the queue. The Platform of Preparation awaited my ludicrous pile of unplanned groceries. I stepped forward…
And the woman with the lanyard, having decided that she had waited quite long enough, grabbed her prosecco and stepped sideways, thereby stealing my checkout.
I stopped abruptly, to avoid bumping into the ignorant monster. But my groceries did not. They tumbled out of my hands and onto the floor. A packet of crumpets hit the woman on her calf.
“Do you mind?” she huffed.
“Sorry, but I was next,” I pointed out.
“I was still being served,” she said.
I gathered up my groceries and stood up. But I could not use the other checkout because it was still awaiting the assistance of a human. Not only had she stolen my checkout, she had ruined her own.
I had to put my stuff down, so I dropped it on her first checkout. A shop assistant arrived. “Do you need help?” she asked.
“No, I…” I began.
“No, he doesn’t need help,” Lanyard Woman snapped. “I was here first. Deal with me.”
The assistant approved her booze purchase, and off swept the Rudest Woman I Have Encountered Since 2007, probably to select Leave on her postal vote.
And the next person in the queue took Lanyard Woman’s place, leaving me stuck at an inoperable checkout. The story of my life.