A nondescript South London corner shop, the type you see on every street. By which, of course, I mean one that isn’t actually on a corner at all. In the aisle next to mine, a grandmother, mother and daughter. Or do I mean two mothers and a daughter? Three generations of women from the same family anyway. I’m getting off track.
I ignore them easily as I try to find a loaf of bread that doesn’t look like it was baked more than a month ago. I want toast, not a paperweight, after all. I am a fussy consumer. I hear a shrieked protest.
“You can’t give her cat food: she’s not a cat!”
I glance round the corner of my aisle, trying not to seem too shifty. I contemplate the small selection of shampoos on offer as if I suddenly have a desperate urge to wash my hair. I think I’m being subtle but I’m probably as conspicuous as a man in a Stasi-issued trilby staring through two holes cut in a newspaper. It doesn’t matter. I turn, ever-so-nonchalantly, away from the Vosene Medicated and see the older of the two mothers, the grandmother if you like, looking at a tin of Whiskas. Her daughter has her hands on her hips. She is evidently the one who has just offered this admonishment.
The older woman continues to look at the tin of cat food. She is lost in contemplation.
After an overly-long pause she glances up at her daughter.
“I’ll get it anyway.”
Guffawing, I have to turn away. I do hope she didn’t want to give it to the little girl in the pram.
1998 I think it was. A pub in Bristol. Can’t remember which one. I was having a couple of pints with my great friend Thos. Smoking, too. You could do that sort of thing then. I did. A shabby gent, unwashed and hedgehog-chinned, charged up to us and tried to clamber under our table, eyes darting around, hands constantly wringing, a pervasive smell of something unusual and chemical in the air around him.
“Hide me: I’m a bank robber.”
He was clearly no such thing, unless a very unsuccessful one. The only thing he had probably stolen recently was the tube of Body Shop Hemp Handcream which he was perpetually rubbing into his hands like Lady Macbeth doing her out-damn-spot routine, flecks of the stuff spattering everything within five feet of him. We had a brief chat about his career as a professional drummer. This seemed perfectly natural at the time.
A member of the pub bar staff approached, asked him to leave.
Having clocked her, he turned conspiratorially toward us.
“You see that woman?” He leered. “If she stirs her teabag clockwise, she’s ANY man’s.”
You can’t argue with that sort of thing.
A corner shop. Late at night. I am buying a pack of fags.
Two Asian men behind the counter, clearly having some sort of involved discussion. One turns from his friend to me.
“How many positions of bang are there in a woman? There must be at least 69, yes? They are numbered.”
Rendered speechless, I shook my head and left. I love that phrase, ‘positions of bang’, though I’ve never had a chance to use it.
Kilburn. About a decade ago. I was stood in WHSmith, reading the newspapers. It’s what we did before the internet. That or the library. Libraries had more tramps and more of a crusty, fuggy aroma. Smith’s was cleaner, and had multiple copies of papers, so Smith’s was better. Smith’s even had magazines.
I was skimming through The Times, or some such similarly improving broadsheet, when suddenly a copy of The Sun was urgently flapped under my nose. I looked up. A troubled, quizzical face was glaring back at me, as one of its owner’s digits was repeatedly and quickly stabbed at the back page, somewhere in the region of a story about a footballer’s weekly wage.
“You see that number there?”
I did see. I confirmed as much.
“Is that a BIG number?”
It was somewhere in the thousands. I said, yes, it was pretty big, but such things were relative. The face looked momentarily less troubled. Then it shouted at me.
“A million! THAT’s a big number.”
I couldn’t deny it.
“Did you know that the sun is a million times bigger than the Earth?”
I wasn’t sure if anyone could be said to know such a thing but was also aware that an epistemological debate would clearly be neither relevant nor welcome. I told him I didn’t. He smiled proudly. He knew something I didn’t. That was enough for him. Knowledge is power.