I got a tax rebate on Friday. Woo and indeed Hoo. It was only for £164, but Jesus Harry Christ did it arrive at a time when we really needed a bit of extra cash. The wife cajoled me all weekend to remember to put it in the bank on Monday, especially as I bought the shopping on Saturday and subsequently went pretty close to my overdraft limit. So, like the dutiful hubby I am, I trundled off to the local Co-op and it's boxy post office run by the amiable Justin.
Parking on Bushland Road is a bit like some Serengeti plain; sometimes it's empty and other times it's full to the brim; today was the latter, so I had to park about a ¼ of a mile from the shop. My back has been screaming at me all morning and literally by the time I walked the 400 metres or so, I was wincing with almost every step. I have to admit I was slightly preoccupied when I walked into the shop, therefore I amazingly missed the man I walked into. I say amazingly because he made Fat Bloke from the Harry Enfield Show look like Kate Moss. He was also quite old and had a ruddy face and receding hairline - this doesn't have much to do with the story, but it adds a bit of texture.
"Watch the fuck where you're going!" He bellowed at me as I bounced off his midriff.
"I'm sorry, I didn't see you." I said quite honestly.
"How do you miss something this size?" He said without even a hint of humour in his voice.
"Okay, I should have said I wasn't paying attention," I said, putting my hands up in that universal admission of surrender.
"Just watch where you're fucking going!" He bellows at me; loudly enough for the half a dozen people in the queue for the tills to turn and yaup.
When I buggered my back up again, about a month ago, I felt it go. I had a twang in the small of my back and then, a bit like peeing yourself, there was a hot spread of fire across my spine. I had a similar thing happen while standing in front of Uberfat Man. Something just went twang in my head. So as he literally pushed past me, I failed to keep my mouth shut. "Look Fatty, I said I was sorry, there's no need to act like a complete cunt."
"What did you say?"
"You heard me or does being so fucking fat make you deaf as well?"
"How dare you?" He says, face turning a slightly more ruddy hue.
"How dare you not accept my apology. I said I was sorry or doesn't apologising mean fuck all now days?"
"Look I've had a bad day, you should have been more careful."
"So you having a bad day means you can act like a prick, does it?" I was fuming and Uberfat Man probably saw this. He mumbled something about something that might have been an admission of his irascibility or might have been some kind of curse on all my family, I couldn't tell, he'd turned away and was waddling towards the Suzuki WagonR that I somehow doubted would take his weight. I muttered something rhyming with 'Cat' under my breath and headed for the post office situated, fortunately, well away from the front of the store.
The queue for Justin was six deep and standing in front of me was a gaggle (or maybe the collective noun should have been 'clunge') of fat chavs. The one we shall call 15stone was directly in front of me; she was wearing a pair of baggy black shorts, pink tights and a bomber jacket. She had bright red hair, almost purple in the fluorescent lights of the shop. Next to her was 14stone, who was wearing some grey knitted combo that might have been fashionable in the 1970s. She had reddish auburn hair with brilliant white streaks in it, which were a good four inches from the roots; said roots were a different colour from the rest of her bonce and it gave the illusion of some bizarre set of alien traffic lights. The final one of the three or 16stone as we shall refer to her as, had naturally frizzy ginger hair, tied back into a Croydon Face Lift which did nothing but make her face look even more capable of curdling milk. I really can't remember what she was wearing, except that she was leaning against the counter on the left with her arms resting on her belly.
14 Stone: Russ is in Sri Lanka.
15 Stone: What's he doing there then?
14 Stone: He's on 'oliday. A couple of weeks after he gets back he's off to Morocco with his mates.
15 Stone: What's he doing there?
14 Stone: He's going on 'oliday again, innee.
16 Stone: Fucking queue. How long is that old bastard going to take. You'd think they would have a queue for pensioners only. Don't they realise people can't wait around all day. I got things to do.
14 Stone: What you got to do then?
15 Stone: Probably fucking.
16 Stone: Nah, Steve's at work and besides, I've had the shits really bad last couple of days. I wouldn't want to have an accident.
Massive cackles emanate from the trio.
15 Stone: 'ow come your fella's getting two 'olidays then?
14 Stone: He sold that Beemer he bought a few months ago. Some twat on Lumbertubs gave him the full asking price.
16 Stone: How come he didn't take you then?
14 Stone: I don't like 'ot weather, do I.
16 Stone: What the fuck is he doing in Sri Lanka, he can't stand Pakis.
15 Stone: He likes a good curry though.
14 Stone: Sri Lanka doesn't have any Pakis in it.
16 Stone: Well they all look the same don't they?
There were nods and general murmurs of agreement and the queue moved forward. I missed a chunk of conversation because my mind was wandering back to the rudeness of Uberfat Man.
16 Stone: Fucking 'ell. Steve reckons old people should have their own lane in the motorways.
14 Stone: They can't 'elp it. We'll all be old eventually.
16 Stone: I'd rather die than be like that.
Keep eating the chips and pies, darling and your wish will ultimately come true I thought and smiled to myself.
15 Stone: What are you laughing at?
She was addressing me. I looked slightly puzzled at her and shrugged.
15 Stone: Are you listening to our conversation?
15 Stone: What you fucking laughing at?
I frowned and wondered if I had an invisible neon sign above my head which invited people to take a pop.
Me: I was not laughing and I was not smiling at you.
16 Stone: Yeah, what are you laughing about?
Me: Something that isn't your business?
15 Stone: Fucking freak.
The queue moved forward a couple more feet and I opted to stand my ground, put a couple of feet between me and the three fat witches. Half a minute passed and the women were still mumbling to each other with the occasional glance thrown in my direction. I started to zone out again, figuring a bit of daydreaming would make all the idiots go away. Then there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked around and there was a little old lady standing behind me. I smiled at her.
Little Old Lady: the queues moved.
She says pointing at the three foot gap between me and the munters in front.
Me: I know.
Little Old Lady: well keep up with the queue or I'll have your place.
I looked at her and shook my head.
Me: we'll still get there in the same amount of time.
16 Stone: why don't you let her into your place. If you can't keep up with the queue you should lose your place.
I could feel the anger brewing, so I walked the three steps forward and stood about 8 inches away from the bunch of ugly in front of me.
14 Stone: Don't get too close.
They all cackled again and 16 Stone's turn for the cashier came up. She left the other two and we shuffled forward another couple of steps. The two other women went half way to the other woman, cutting the usual distance between the person being served and the waiting queue by about half. I opted not to follow them, figuring I'd stay by the Queue Here sign.
Little Old Lady: The queue?
She was pointing at the four foot gap between me and the other two girls. I pointed at the rather large sign that said 'Queue Here' and turned my back on her. I heard a harumph and she waltzes past me and stands in the gap between me and the munters.
Me: Excuse me. What do you think you're doing?
Little Old Lady: I told you if you didn't keep up with the queue I'd have your place.
Me: But it says queue here; the gap is for privacy.
She just ignored me and turned her back on me.
Me: Ignorant fucking old bag.
15 Stone: What did you call her.
Me: She just pushed in front of me.
14 Stone: I said he was a freak.
Little Old Lady: He wasn't keeping up with the queue.
Me: I was waiting at the sign.
Little Old Lady: Well, these girls are waiting here.
Me: They know the woman being served by Justin.
Little Old Lady: Well, you're not having your place back.
16 Stone: (in the middle of being served) Yeah, let the pensioner in; she shouldn't have to wait.
15 stone: (speaking to the old woman) Some people are just so ignorant these days.
Little Old Lady: He's probably one of those Eastern Europeans; think they can come over here and run the country.
How does that work then? I maybe only uttered a couple of dozen words, but they were all in English and all with my pretty neutral English accent.
14 Stone: My Russ might have a job if it wasn't for all those Poles. Coming over here, getting our jobs and buying our houses. They ought to all be deported. My neighbour says they all belong to some Polish Mafia.
The next few minutes went by without incident. All three of the flabby triplets were served and the old lady, who had pushed past me, got served. She wanted her pension, TV license stamps, electricity card and various other things doing. I timed her; she was at the counter for 11 minutes. When she finished, she walked past me and gave me what can only be described as an evil and satisfied smile.
Me: (on arrival to Justin) Did you see that?
Me: That old woman pushed in front of me.
He looked at me like I was a five year old moaning about how unfair it was to have to go to bed at 7pm. I paid my money in and left. Anyone seeing me must have thought I had ringing in my ears, because I was shaking my head in disbelief - all the way out of the doors and up to my car...
And it was only 9.35am.
Last Monday an old colleague contacted me and asked if I would help with her daughter's university project. Kim, the daughter of my old colleague, is doing some kind of journalism course and her current project is about unemployed people and how being made redundant can have adverse effects on people. She wanted to talk to me because I fitted the bill perfectly.
I spoke with her on Thursday afternoon and she arranged to come round this morning. She was due at 10am, but turned up a little after I got back from my post office adventures. She explained she gave herself plenty of time to find me and found me quicker than she thought. I invited her in, placated the dogs, which she was perfectly excellent with and wandered into the kitchen. "Would you like a cuppa?"
"I don't drink tea or coffee. Have you got any hot chocolate?"
"No. I don't."
"I'm okay then." We chatted for a few minutes, talked about her mum, what she was doing at uni and her iPhone, which she was fiddling with throughout the first five minutes she was in the house. "Are you sure you haven't got any hot chocolate?" She asked.
"I'm positive. We don't drink it and frankly we couldn't afford it."
"You must have one of those free sample sachets that come on the front of magazines." I wondered if I was dreaming.
"No I haven't. We don't buy magazines that have free samples on them."
"Well, I would have thought being unemployed you'd buy things like that for the free stuff?" I wondered if I should explain that the average magazine that gives cover-mounted stuff away usually weighs in at about £3 and the freebie could be bought for less than 20p - economical it's not.
"Oh. Okay. Have you got any Lemsips?" I frowned and shook my head.
"It's just I think I'm coming down with a cold."
"There's a shop at the end of the road." She looked at me like I'd just suggested going upstairs to have some naked fun.
"Have you got any juice?" We didn't. Then I realised she wasn't talking about fruit juice, she was talking about squash.
"I've got some orange and mango."
"I don't like mango." I felt like being really sarcastic, but bit my lip instead. "Could I have a really weak coffee?" Obviously she liked coffee more than she thought.
Anyhow... after this rather bizarre opening, we sat down in the lounge and she got out her ... notebook. I groaned as I sat down on the sofa. "Is your back bad?" I nodded. "My dad's an osteopath." I knew this as her mother was forever touting her husband's business whenever I saw her; she knew I had back troubles and apparently her husband could solve problems that the combined might of the NHS couldn't.
"You should go and see him."
"Even if I thought it would do any good, I can't afford it."
"It's only £28 a session; if you're unemployed you get 10% discount."
"I don't have £25.20 to spend on osteopaths I'm afraid."
"No, I said it was £28."
"Yes, but I'm unemployed. I'd get the 10% discount?"
"Oh is that what it is with the discount?" She laughed and I started to wonder how she ever got into university.
"I'll bet you spend that much on painkillers and special mattresses?"
"Um... I get my prescriptions free."
"Do you? I nodded. "Oh..." I smiled. "Perhaps I could ask him to see you as a favour for you doing this?"
"I wouldn't bother; there's no point seeing an osteopath unless you can see him over a number of sessions and I really can't afford it."
"But if you started seeing him, you might get a job in between and be able to pay for your visits." I started to wonder if she was just there to sell her father's wares.
A few minutes passed and we got down to the nitty-gritty of her questions. "So, what's it like being unemployed?" I started to give her a nice full description of the last six months, but she stopped me. "Sorry, but I can't write all of this down. Can you give me, I dunno, six words to describe it?" I felt like cackling a bit, but pulled six words from out of my head that were apt. She nodded while scribbling them down. "What have you done about getting a job?"
"I've looked. Applied for and failed to get a couple of dozen."
"Okay. Why did you lose your job?"
"I got made redundant."
"What does that actually mean?" Can you imagine what was by this time going on in my head?
"It means the job I was doing had become obsolete."
"Yes, but what does that mean?"
"It means that the job I did stopped existing." She frowned, scribbled some notes down, went to ask me something, thought better of it and fell silent. I felt I needed to elucidate a little. "After the budget came in, the YOT, who I worked for, didn't have enough money in their budget to pay every one, so they kind of decided my grade wasn't needed any more."
"Didn't they offer you another job?" I nearly laughed.
"Um, they didn't have enough money to pay me and my colleagues, so they had to make us redundant." She nodded like she understood every word I said.
"That seems a bit unfair." I felt like suggesting 'unfair' was maybe a tad too lenient, but opted against it. "Would you consider doing something else?"
I was about to answer this with an explanation about how my back trouble was preventing me from doing certain types of job, but before I started I could see where the conversation would go and frankly I didn't want to see her bloody osteopath father; in fact, I wouldn't go and see her osteopath father even if I won millions of pounds on the lottery. I'd probably go to his fiercest rival and offer ringing endorsements rather than go to her father.
The next thing I knew, she was standing up. "That's about everything I need," she said making her way to the front door. I was a little bemused, but also quite pleased that this experience was over. Kim thanked me for my help - I wasn't totally sure if I'd given her anything other than a disinclination to see her osteopath father.
I saw her out and said my goodbyes and wondered just what the point of the exercise was.
Then I walked back in the house to be presented by a big pile of dog sick...