COLUMN: May 3, 2018

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This is what supermarkets look like when it isn’t Saturday morning

I DO not have a problem with pensioners. My grandmother was one, as was my mother. My father continues to be one. One day, I hope to join their ranks – probably when I am 75, the way things are going.

But I do not always understand pensioners. I had to go to a bank last week to conduct some business. Ideally I would have done it online, but I have very recently switched banks, and I chose the one that likes to say yes, not only to its customers but also, it turns out, to bad IT solutions.

Owing to a series of disappointing events, I was forced to go to the bank at lunchtime. Nobody goes to the bank at lunchtime by choice, because it’s lunchtime for bank employees too, which means that at the time of greatest demand, the supply of cashiers is at its lowest.

It is a little like having a soft play area that is open all year round apart from at weekends and during school holidays.

The point is, everybody knows that the very worst time to go to the bank is at lunchtime. It is the equivalent of driving at rush hour. If you could go to the bank at any other time at all, of course you would. It would be madness otherwise.

So when I turned up at the bank, expecting to see a queue of estate agents, clerks, and shop workers tapping their feet and wondering why a bank with seven cashier windows only had two open, I was surprised to be in a queue with nine out of ten people in it pensioners.

Now, before you send me abusive messages about having respect for my elders – which is refreshing at my age – just hear me out. Or read me out. Or hear somebody else reading me out.

I am not suggesting that pensioners are banned from bank queues at lunchtime. Their parents didn’t fight a war so that they would have to wait another hour before paying in a cheque. It is the right of every free-born British person to go to the bank between 12noon and 1pm, even if they’re in front of me and they’ve got 12 bags of one-penny and two-pence pieces.

But why, with the whole of the working day available to them, would they actually choose to go to the bank at 12.23pm on a Thursday?

Similarly, why would anybody choose to do their big supermarket shop on a Saturday morning? Shopping at a supermarket on Saturdays is a hellscape of anger and rancour and clashing trolleys and young children who know that life ought to be better than this, as they kick their legs and try to get out of their tiny seats to escape to anywhere other than there.

These wise children speak for all of us. And, yet, go to a supermarket on a Saturday morning and regard in amazement the number of people who remember rationing and BBC2 starting who have become involved in the melee.

These are people who could go to the supermarket at any time, even on Thursday after they’ve been to the bank, when the shelves are heaving with freshly replenished goods and more than one colour of toilet tissue. It is as baffling as those people without children and who do not work in the education system who choose to take time off during the school holidays.

Why would they voluntarily make their own lives more inconvenient, I wondered as I stood in the queue? I would like to say that I did not give the fact they were making my own life more inconvenient a moment’s thought, but that would make me a big fat liar.

“Ooh, it’s ridiculous,” said the elderly woman in front of me. All the women in front of me were elderly. “It’s chock-a-block. They should have more windows open.”

“Yes,” I said.

She continued, “It’s always like this at lunchtime.”

I felt my neck pop. I wanted to ask her, if she knew that, why she was there right then. Why didn’t she wait an hour? Why wasn’t she there an hour before?

But I didn’t, because I had finally worked it out. The reason she was there, the reason they were all there, was precisely because there would be loads of people around to complain to. To talk to.

And one day I’ll understand it properly. Probably when I am 75.

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