I watched the news last night and realised why I’d stopped watching it. I’d stopped watching it because it was a wasted thirty minutes of a life I recently realised is precious. And I’d said to myself no more of this negativity, not a second more of this moaning and groaning. No more offending my ears with sentences that start something like: “The Government is beginning to relax lockdown measures, but many people think it’s too soon…” In other words I’m angry, and I’m angry because people in this country are never fucking happy. One minute we’re moaning about losing our jobs because we’re stuck in the house, the next we’re complaining that the easing of lockdown is too much too soon. Seriously I’m no Tory, heaven forbid, but if I was in Government I’d be throwing my hands in the air and saying, “What the fuck do you want?” and “Why the fuck do we bother?” That’s not a view that will win me any popularity votes. Do I care? Not a jot.
It all seemed to start when Starmer got the gig, the man whose blood-red party has always flowed through my veins. Afforded his time in the spotlight, he began to pop up on my screen every five minutes dressed in the blue suit he’d borrowed from Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, and to pontificate. But what did he actually do? What is he actually doing? It doesn’t appear to be very much, like it didn’t appear to be very much all those years ago when he was looking at Jimmy Savile. When everybody was looking at Savile and knowing he was evil, it was decreed that there was insufficient evidence of paedophilia. Oh really? Now, when everybody is looking at Covid and knowing it is evil, some of us are doing something about it, doing something to actually help instead of doing nothing except fucking whinge.
As it happens (as Savile would’ve said) this is Volunteer Week. And I, as it happens, am a Volunteer. And I’m very proud of it, and I’m very grateful to all those who’ve taken time to say they’re proud of me for being charitable. But this morning something happened that upped my anger to boiling-point and led to my feeling far from charitable.
One of my housebound clients needed meds so I’m waiting at Morrisons pharmacy, in a queue seven people long, when suddenly a man of about sixty-five goes straight to the front. Whereupon the lady first in line politely told him that there was a queue.
“A queue!” he said, “I only want my prescription.”
“So do we,” said the man second in line.
“You mean I have to go behind all these people!” he cried.
“Afraid so,” I said, feeling I had to chip in.
“I’ll be dead by the time I get my bloody pills,” he grumbled.
“One lives in hope,” I said, sotto voce.
“Bloody ridiculous!” he said.
In retrospect I should’ve left it there, but I just couldn’t help myself, so annoyed was I at being made to feel uncharitable. I mean someone younger I could understand, but this man I felt was old enough to know better and to have a little respect. Not old enough to have fought for his country or anything significant like that, but just the age to suggest he was born in the baby boom and has had it rather easy ever since he was out of nappies. Anyway, I said “It’s not really ridiculous is it? To form an orderly queue I mean, when the staff are clearly very busy.”
“They should have more staff,” he said.
“Well perhaps they have staff furloughed, or perish the thought, off sick.”
“I don’t care,” he said, “I don’t see why I have to be stuck in this long queue.”
Again in hindsight I should’ve left it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. And this is the ensuing dialogue.
“It’s not really long,” I said, “It just feels long, because we’re socially distancing.”
“Load of bloody codswallop.”
“Codswallop?” I said, “You do understand why we’re distancing, don’t you?”
“Of course I bloody do,” he said, “I’m not stupid.”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” I said, and this time it came out a little louder than planned.
“Don’t you get funny with me,” he said, “I’m a pensioner, I should be given priority.”
“You mean priority over all these other pensioners polite enough to queue, whose needs might be far more urgent than yours?” I said, “You mean priority over the lady I’m here to collect for? Who happens to be Ninety years old and isolating, and who just lost her husband to Covid-19?”
At this point the other people in the queue had gone quiet, as if they’d given me the floor in terms of dealing with the interloper. But I could nevertheless sense them thinking “Well said, keep going!”
“Yes well,” said the man, “that doesn’t mean we all have to queue.”
I could only sigh and say “I give up!”
“Anyway,” he said, “Who are you?”
“I am just a man who’s trying to do something to help,” I said, wearily.
“I meant what’s your name?”
“My name?” I said, “Just call me the man who’s in the queue and will be served and out of here before you are.”
I could feel the release of tension of those in front of me, the Mexican Wave of elation on the verge of giving way to applause. But it wouldn’t have been necessary, their smiles, and those on the faces of the overworked staff, were enough.
Because a smile is a smile in any language, and the day I stop smiling and doing something to help, preferring instead to become a moaning old bastard, is the day I roll over, break wind, and drop dead.