I was in a bakery the other day, buying bread. I won’t, in case you’re wondering, be entering that opening line in the 2017 Most Exciting Start To A Newspaper Column Awards.
Me and the proprietor were having a pleasant chat about – as often happens when making small-talk – the weather.
I said to him: It’s a lovely day today isn’t it, much better than yesterday’, and he replied: ‘Yes, very nice, and it’s meant to be getting even hotter towards the end of the week’, to which I responded: ‘That’s lovely, always nice when the weekend is hot isn’t it?’, to which he replied: ‘Yes, but having said that Sunday is meant to be a bit duller.’
We really were having a whale of a time and I was on the cusp of inviting him round for tea and possibly to spend Christmas with us when our pleasantries were interrupted by a stressed-looking middle-aged woman wearing far too much lipstick, who waddled into the shop talking too loudly on a mobile phone.
This often happens these days of course, but what made this different – and much worse – was that she had her phone on loudspeaker, so the person on the other end of the line was also audible, meaning myself and the bakery owner could hear, whether we wanted to or not, every word of their entire conversation.
It was a small shop and she stood right in the middle, obvious to all around.
‘Well just tell him,’ barked the woman, who was so stern and humourless I’m guessing she worked as either a prison guard or a professional cage-fighter. ‘If he’s going to act like that, Duncan needs to have a word because it’s just not on, you hear me, not on.’
A disembodied voice emerged from the phone, another woman, equally as loud and bombastic. ‘Yeah, that may be so Barbara, but this has happened before and he did absolutely nothing. What kind of line manager is he anyway? I knew I should have taken that job at Debenhams. I’m fed up of this place. They don’t even sell crisps in the vending machine any more.’
At this point, the woman in the shop moved the phone away from her mouth and hissed to the bakery owner: ‘Meat and potato pasty to go’ – no ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘how are you today, kind sir?’ – before returning to her conversation.
It was the absolute height of rudeness and I stood there aghast. I could tell the bakery owner was cheesed off too but as it is his business and every transaction counts. As much as he’d have liked to say: ‘I’m sorry madam, but I’m not serving you on the grounds that you’re a rude and ignorant cretin’, he couldn’t.
Thus it was left to me to make a stand for decency. Being English and pathetic however, this stand consisted not of actually saying anything but instead staring intensely at mobile phone woman in an aggressive and disapproving manner that I hoped conveyed contempt but in reality probably looked like I was suffering from trapped wind.
She took absolutely no notice and scratching the inside of her nostril with her fake fingernail, shrieked: ‘No crisps? Typical. Sums up the entire place. Shambles. I’ll call Duncan now and tell him to sort it. I swear to God, I’m this close to marching into Maureen’s office and telling her where to go.’
Mercifully, the bakery owner handed over the pasty at this point and the woman, without a word of thanks or even the slightest nod of gratitude, turned on her heels and marched out of the shop.
Me and the bakery man exchanged a look, raised our eyebrows and shook our heads.
He then handed me my bread – I’d been waiting for it to be sliced, it makes such a mess when you’re cutting it on the kitchen surface otherwise – and I walked outside to find three stationary cars on the road, each containing furious-looking drivers, because mobile phone woman had, despite the fact there were several free parking spaces around 15 yards away, abandoned her car directly outside the shop, bang in the middle of the street, thus blocking the way for everyone else.
She clambered into her car, didn’t acknowledge or apologise to any of the waiting drivers, took a large bite of her pasty and, still talking on her mobile with flecks of meat and potato flying over the dashboard, drove off.
It’s wrong to feel hatred towards other human beings, but in this case I made an exception.