Friday, June 22, 2007

In case of picnics

I was in the bank the other day in Seaburn. An elderly man was at the counter in front of me. He was busy rifling through the pockets of his raincoat. I gathered that he was looking for the origin of his errand: a chequebook perhaps, or some cash bound in an elastic band. He then began to produce all manner of items unrelated in any way to banking. It felt as though I was witnessing a performance by the oldest and worst magician in the world.

Firstly, there came a long piece of string. It struck me that old men do indeed revert to being little boys. What possible use could there be for a piece of string in an old man’s coat pocket on a trip to the shops? Unless he was working as the best disguised assassin since The Jackal and the string was actually a garrotte. A running commentary was inevitable.

‘Oh, sorry Pet. It’s in here somewhere….the doings.’

The next item to appear in the slow motion sleight of hand was a handful of paper. I could see crumpled shopping lists, written in an elderly hand. They were in exasperated capitals and I guessed that this man wasn’t the most efficient messenger in the neighbourhood. He turned and was slightly startled by the steadily growing queue behind him.

‘ Oh, I do apologise. Must find this thing to pay in. I know you’re all busy people...... I do beg your pardon.’

I felt uncharacteristically charitable from this point on. The lone counter person smiled an unconcerned smile. She looked well used to working to the clock of the elderly in the area – all of whom seemed to have retired from everything, including Greenwich Mean Time. I was in no hurry to get back to the office – I never am. The ‘show and tell’ continued and the old man began investigating the deep raincoat pocket on his left side. I heard the rustle of cellophane and then, ‘before my very eyes’, the man was showing the room a small, wrapped set of plastic cutlery.

‘They are a good idea, you know. I carry them in case of picnics.’

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