STEVE CANAVAN: The ‘thighs the limit’ at M&S

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I was in Marks & Spencer (don’t worry, I’ve not gone all middle-class; Spar was closed), where I spent around 13 minutes – and I believe this neatly sums up how how thrilling my life is – studying the best-before dates on various pieces of chicken.

As everyone knows, all shops stick the produce with the worst best-before date on at the front of their displays so they get rid of it first.

But myself and a few other incredibly sad people in society refuse to fall foul of this and will waste lengthy periods of their existence delving right to the back of the display to find the freshest possible produce. Indeed I once spent a full 34 minutes in Morrisons wading through around 200 packs of raspberries and fist-pumped the air when I found one that went out of date a whole day later than the others. Ah, happy days...

But back to M&S where there were two packets of chicken, out of around 20 packs, that went out of date later than the others – June 6 since you ask.

I picked them up and spent a further 10 minutes examining both to see which had the least fat and blood on, and which was the biggest.

I even got a ruler out at one stage but just as I began measuring them, the security guard shot me a strange look and said into his walkie-talkie, ‘Red alert Geoff, I repeat red alert, there’s a man in aisle five measuring the organic chicken thighs – block the entrance please’.

After much agonising – and, sadly, all this is true by the way – I eventually chose the chicken I thought biggest and leanest and went to the till to pay for it along with my other goods.

The cashier – a very nice middle-aged brunette lady with the kind of perm popular in the late 1980s – began scanning my items but when she got to the chicken it wouldn’t work.

After several unsuccessful attempts, she flipped it over in frustration and saw the barcode was ripped.

‘I’ll just have to call someone over to get you a new one,’ she said.

I panicked.

The chicken I had sacrificed the last 20 minutes of my life for was about to disappear into the sunset – or at the very least back into aisle five – and I was helpless to do anything about it.

‘Erm, the chicken, would it be possible to…’ I began before realising that if I requested to keep the same packet of chicken thighs, the cashier and the two people behind me in the queue – one a slick-looking businessman talking in a loud voice on his mobile phone about the share price of British Airways – might, quite correctly, jump to the conclusion that I’m a loser who has absolutely no life whatsoever.

‘Were you saying something?’ the cashier said.

‘No,’ I lied.

Another Marks and Sparks employee – this one with a huge ginger beard that looked like it was last trimmed around the time Ted Heath took power – appeared, took my chicken from perm-lady, and walked off.

Myself, the cashier and the queue stood in awkward silence – I was too on edge to make my usual small-talk (‘has it been busy in here today? Weather’s looking up isn’t it? How do you rate Andy Murray’s chances at Wimbledon?’) – before ginger beard man returned and my worst fears were realised: he was holding a different packet containing a slightly ragged looking piece of chicken which went out of date, I noticed with fury, a full five days before the one I’d originally selected.

‘Thanks Brian,’ the girl smiled to the chap, who I now deduced was called Brian, before turning in my direction and asking, ‘is that chicken okay?’

I had two choices. I could be dishonest and say, ‘it’s fine, thank you’ or tell the truth and reply, ‘no it’s absolutely bloody not. I’d selected one with a much better before date, and without that big piece of fat running all the way through it. Do you not realise what I went through before choosing that particular packet of chicken thighs? I’m taking this further – can you get me the manager?’

So naturally I replied, ‘it’s fine, thank you’ and then left the shop, stomped home and relayed the whole story to Mrs Canavan, who, not for the first time, shook her head, muttered ‘weirdo’ under her breath, and gave me a look which suggested she would be filing for divorce a the earliest possible opportunity.