a flash, a spark, an explosion of pure brilliance  




Why is it that I should choose to shine so brightly at checkout nineteen at Sainsbury’s?


A number of things have to be in place before anyone can shine. You can’t just open your mouth at any moment and expect to utter the grandest statement, or to enlighten those around you in an unprecedented manner. The situation has to be just right, there has to be a confluence – a confluence of just the right this, that and everything else. Just like there was at checkout nineteen at Sainsbury’s last Friday evening.


After walking swiftly up and down a couple of isles, picking up a freshly baked loaf of bread, some Parma ham and a tub of coleslaw, I stood at the end of what I judged to be the shortest queue at the checkouts. A moment later I was followed by a woman who was in quite a hurry, as could be judged by her heavy breathing and the fact that she stood a little too close to me, each puff of her heavy breath softly touching the back of my neck like a damp spray. In front of me was another woman who, without the least compunction, was about to purchase the most god-awful food… events were confluencing.


Now, of course, I can’t include every detail of this point in time. But no doubt the reader would not be aggrieved by the fact that I omitted to mention that I didn’t reach out and put down one of those checkout dividers – that little plastic baton which functions as a divide between your purchases and the purchases of your immediate predecessor as well as your immediate successor on the little grey conveyor belt of prospective purchases. Besides, nor did I mention the stiff smell of body odour emanating from the direction of the check-out person, the manner in which the chocolate milk bottle belonging to the pile of food in front of mine rolled backwards and forwards between the frozen pizzas and packets of chocolate-fingers, the glaring strip lighting, the sounds of a thousand plastic shopping bags being rustled, the screeched announcement of special offers and a thousand other things which were jostling for my attention. My point being that the checkout divider has no significance over and above the thousands of other things happening around you at such a point in your life.


However, others see the matter differently. It turns out that there is such a thing as checkout divider etiquette. And, it turns out, that it is a gross infringement of this etiquette should you not put down the plastic baton whenever the chance presents itself to you – because, as you know, there are many checkouts which don’t have a sufficient number of these objects. When they are within reach you must use them; though, you must take into account your relative position:


If you are behind someone and their food is already down on the conveyor belt, you are obliged to reach out and grab the checkout divider and place it down before you begin to place your purchases onto the conveyor belt. If your food is already down and another person is about to join the queue behind you, it is not obligatory, just best practice, to put a checkout divider down behind your purchases. As soon as their purchases are being put down behind yours the obligation passes over to them, though the point at which the obligation passes from you to them has often been a point of contention.


And on top of all of that, if someone puts one of those plastic batons down between their food and yours, and you are behind them, about to put your prospective purchases down on the conveyor belt, it is obligatory to mutter a thank you. Letting out a voluble thank-you isn’t advisable, as this may come across as sarcasm, but mumbling an indecipherable thank-you into your sleeve is the very least you should do.


Now I object to others applying their morality to me. Because, after all, everything is relative. And I’m relatively amoral, by which I mean I don’t feel tied down by any of these constrictions on behaviour. Which is not to say that I will kill a man as soon as I’d eat a slice of bread and jam. I’m not a psychotic killer. I’m a human being.


Which is what I felt like calling out last Friday evening at the checkout of Sainsbury’s… that I am a human being… tough I held back; instead I opted for a series of insightful comments peppered with cutting remarks.


Pointedly ignoring all issues surrounding checkout divider etiquette (of which I was then aware), I stood idly in the queue after placing my prospective purchases on the little conveyor belt. The person in front of me, the second woman who I mentioned earlier, reached out and reached back – a perceptible stretch which she made a great deal about, a look of effort clearly marked out on her face, which she ensured was pointed in my direction for me to notice – and placed the plastic baton between her food and mine. And did I say thank you? I certainly did not.


And then the woman behind me, already mentioned too, reached across my Parma ham and freshly baked loaf, her arm pit brushing against the wisps of plastic wrapping tied into a bunch at the top of my loaf, her wet coat brushing against my tub of coleslaw, her dirty hand reaching out for the plastic baton sitting on the side of the conveyor belt, her whole bulk invading my personal space, she sighs such a sigh as though…


This was the necessary confluence of events which would spark off anyone’s brilliance.


And it wasn’t simply the glaring injustice dripping off the incident. Worse things happen every day. Greater injustices are perpetrated and ignored ten times in everyone’s daily life… I had made a point of ignoring several gross injustices in my trip around the supermarket up to that point. No – it’s not a matter of injustice. It’s more a matter of in-something-else… a lack of…


I can’t recall exactly what I said at that point, that sparkling and shimmering string of explosive comments, but I didn’t mutter into my sleeve. Nor did I make out as if I was talking to myself, which many people do when they wish to lessen the affront they are giving when clearly dressing someone down. I actually stood back, pushing someone on the next queue behind me to one side, so that I could take the two of them in, those two women who were so appalled by my lack of checkout divider etiquette, and let them have it in no uncertain terms.


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