I work in Sunderland (I think I have mentioned this). More precisely, I work near the football stadium. The most convenient supermarket is on the coast – in Seaburn. Seaburn appears to be almost exclusively populated by old people. I suppose that older people like to retire by the sea. This gives the aisles of the supermarket the air of a hospital main corridor. Most of the trolleys are of the wheelchair-friendly kind and a busy spell causes bottlenecks of the bewildered at certain points around the shop. I try and speed through. I know what I want and I haven’t – unlike most of the other customers – got all day. I tend to zig-zag my way through the shop, avoiding the hotspots for elderly congregation: the bread products, the reduced-to clear section and the high-fibre cereals. The narrow central aisle is also out of bounds – as it serves as a cruel funnel which brings the old people to a virtual standstill and then delivers them into the confusing maze of the greeting card aisles.
I respect the elderly, most of the time. On every other visit I make to this to this store, however, I am accosted by one of them. I am tall. I know that I am tall. I have been tall for a long time. Old people seem to feel an irresistible urge to bring my own height to my attention. I’m up here, I know about it. It’s usually men who make a sporting gambit along the lines of: ‘You must play basketball, do you son?’ or ‘You should be in a line out son, do you play rugby?’ Occasionally women will say something. Two tiny old ladies stood beside me at the checkout last week and one said to the other ‘Eee, I fee proper titchy beside him’ and giggled.
All innocent enough I suppose – a transparent attempt to connect with a stranger. The problem is I’d much rather remain a stranger. The last old timer who felt the need to inform me that I was a tall person was well-intentioned, but he made a simply ridiculous remark. ‘My, you must be 8 feet tall are you son?’
‘That’s right,’ I said,’well done you.’ He flashed his ill-fitting dentures in delight. I hadn’t quite finished.
‘And you, sir, must be…what.. a hundred and ten years old?’