Metro 166


I was in a health food store buying nuts and seeds to go in my special porridge. It’s OK, pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts are the acceptable fayre of the health store. I wasn’t going to get sucked in to buying oat groats or St John’s Wort (not til I know what part of St John they got the wort from).

When I got to the counter there was no one there to serve me, but I was prepared to wait. The store wasn’t busy and I assumed the assistant had popped away from the till for a few seconds to check that the pink Himalayan salt hadn’t turned white or was out back practising how to say quinoa.

A man arrived behind me who was not so patient. He huffed and puffed, looked at his watch (presumably to discover that he had been waiting for two whole seconds) and then shouted, "Hello!! Service! SERVICE!" rather more hastily and angrily than was appropriate. I wasn’t sure what he was hoping to do with the thirtieth of a minute that had been wasted. Probably complain about something else. It must have been annoying that his complaining time was being eaten into with a complaint that he didn’t wish to make.

His rudeness worked. The assistant rushed from the back of the shop, the shade of expensive and ineffectual Tibetan salt. But she hadn't seen which of us had been creating the ruckus. She apologised to me for keeping me waiting, which I guessed probably meant that she thought I'd been the rude one. And yet to say, "That wasn't me being a prick" seemed a bit over-defensive. Also the man who had been the prick was standing right behind me. I was placed in an awfully British conundrum and as has happened so many times before I avoided confrontation simply by being as polite as I could be (in the hope that that would make her realise I was innocent) but otherwise allowed myself to take the blame for a crime I didn't commit.

But she asked me if I had a loyalty card and those kind of things slightly annoy me and I was maybe a bit short in telling her that I did not and that I didn’t want one and I could see here thinking that it was definitely me that was the prick. And perhaps I am a prick. But the first prickish crime had not been my fault.

As I left I saw the real prick sidling up to the counter all smiles and sunshine and I was sure that they were about to share a conversation about how impolite I was. I knew that the real prick would be getting off on having magically transferred his own prickishness to someone else.

What if he used it as an opportunity to sympathise with the lady and then maybe ask her out for a coffee and one thing led to another and they got married, all because they'd bonded over what a prick I was? But all the time it had been him who was the prick. And she'd be married to him and it'd be too late. Should I go back into the shop and shout, "No, don't share that meaningful look with him. It's him who is the prick. Do not, I repeat, do not marry him under any circumstances." On balance I decided it was probably best to let it go.

But what had I condemned this innocent woman to by my silence? If you’re reading, nice mung-bean-selling lady, call of the wedding!

My column about how to put knives in a dishwasher got a huge  response. Reader Jon Burton to ask whether knives, forks and spoons should be mixed together or confined to their own section in a cutlery apartheid. Separating them makes the washer easier to unstack, but it leads to spoons literally spooning and not getting clean. So DO NOT segregate your cutlery! Hopefully mankind can also learn from the metaphor. Do keep your dishwasher-based queries coming in.