I was in Sainsbury’s to do – and I know this is surprising – some shopping, when I met a couple who live on the same street as me.
Their names are Duncan and Janice and although he has an unsightly mole just below his right eye and she a tendency to wear very bright Lycra leggings in public, they’re very nice and so I decided I should stop and chat.
They were stood looking intently at some broccoli as I approached.
‘Hello Janice, hi Duncan,’ I said. This seemed an appropriate greeting as those are their names.
‘Hi Steve,’ they said in unison.
‘How’s things?’ I asked.
‘Oh not too bad,’ Janice said, hitching up her leggings, which, I noted, were a luminous orange.
There was a slight pause.
‘Doing a bit of shopping?’ I asked. They don’t call me Sherlock Canavan for nothing.
‘Yes, just getting a few bits and bobs in,’ said Duncan, cheerily.
‘Me too,’ I replied. ‘Well, good to see you, take care.’
And off I went, towards the carrots, while they continued to deliberate whether to purchase tenderstem or a large floret.
In aisle three – between the mouth freshener and dental floss – I found myself walking towards Janice and Duncan again.
They were examining some Oral B Gum and Enamel Repair on a two for £3 offer.
We made eye contact and as it would have been odd to pass in silence I said, ‘it’s me again’. They politely smiled and I walked past.
On the very next aisle – kitchen roll and J-cloths – blow me, there they were again.
This now felt a little awkward. I mean, short of a brief chat about the speed skating at the Winter Olympics, I had literally exhausted all my conversational lines.
Panicking, I reached for the nearest thing – a packet of 10 kitchen pan scourers – and began to read the packaging with such focused concentration it was as if I were halfway through chapter seven of Great Expectations.
After at least half a minute of staring at the scourer packet – ‘the hard-wearing surface on top quickly scrubs away dirt, while an absorbent sponge underneath cleanses less stubborn areas. The Spantex AX47 really does have it all!’ – I chanced a glance to my left to check if they’d gone.
At that very moment Janice and Duncan were striding past, presumably after they’d spent the last 30 seconds prentending to do something else in order to avoid me and then, getting bored, making a dash for it.
We sort of all weakly smiled at each other in embarrassed fashion and, in a pathetic attempt to break the awkwardness, I blurted, ‘I’m not following you, honest!’.
The three of us pretended to find this hilarious and after all laughing just a little too much, put our heads down and scurried on.
I couldn’t cope with any more of this so I headed to the far end of the store and began shopping from there.
Three aisles later I rounded a display of pickled onions and was horrified to catch sight of Janice’s leggings in the distance, so did a sudden and slightly manic U-turn – narrowly avoiding taking out an elderly woman with a walking stick and a limp – dashed back up the aisle and out of sight, then spent the next few minutes fretting about whether they’d spotted me and, if so, how rude they must think I am.
The whole situation was making me so tense I decided I couldn’t bear it any longer so ditched my trolley in a random aisle and went to the café to have a brew instead.
The café is opposite the front entrance and it was only some 45 minutes later, when I saw Janice and Duncan finally exit the store, that I returned to my trolley – still forlornly sat in the spot where I had left it – and continued my shopping.
When I returned home, an angry Mrs Canavan asked why I’d been gone so long, so I had to explain the whole situation.
At the end of my tale, she looked at me with concern and asked if I’d considered seeing a counsellor.
As a footnote, I met Janice and Duncan the very next morning as they walked their dog past my house.
There was nothing I could think of to say, other than, ‘did you get all you shopping done yesterday?’
They said, ‘yes, thanks, got everything we needed. You?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
They carried on their dog walk and I got in my car. Note to self I really need to improve my social skills.