One day last week, I was buying quite a lot of bedding in a well know department store; as I walked toward the cash desk I was accosted by a slim young girl, wearing a large smile and brandishing a clipboard. She produced a card advertising a 10% reduction on purchases in return for signing up for a store card. The offer was only valid for a short time and she felt sure I would want to take advantage of it.
I usually smile sweetly and politely refuse such offers, I have had enough plastic in my purse and wallet over the years to make something really useful; but for some unfathomable reason I found myself sitting down with her to discuss the agreement for the card.
She took me through the form, asking for my name and address, pretty standard stuff, then asked for my bank details to check if I was credit worthy, and for a utility bill to check I lived where I said I did. A utility bill is not something I expect most people would carry with them when they go shopping I told her, and in any case, I never have any utility bills in my name. This caused her some concern as the form had to be fully completed or it wouldn’t be processed and I would not get my store card.
I actually felt relieved and said we would forget the card but thanked her for the thought. I got up and went toward the cash desk. The young woman followed me saying that she was sure she could get “them” to forget about the utility bill and as long as she completed the rest of the form, we would be good to go.
She asked me a couple more routine questions and then, against a backdrop of people patiently waiting to pay for their purchases, she asked me my age. I stared at her, deciding whether to be rude or just walk away. I mean, what sort of question is that to be asked when you’re out buying some new sheets and a couple of duvet covers.
I had a sudden flashback to a day out with my grandmother. I think I was seven years old or so and we had gone to the office my grandfather’s employer. He worked on boats, and was often away delivering one boat to new moorings or bringing another one back to the boatyard. At these times it was arranged that my grandmother would collect his wages.
The man at the desk was not the one who was usually there, he was someone my grandmother didn’t know and he asked her lots of questions. She was uncomfortable with this and I remember her voice rising as she tried to deal with him. Eventually, after exhausting his long list, the man asked her how old she was – ‘just for the record.’ I remember the intake of breath as she tightened her grip on my hand; she squared her shoulders and said to the little man behind the desk “Not that it has anything to do with you, but I am as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth” and taking the wage packet off the desk, she dragged me out of the office.
I looked at the glossy young woman with her nice smile and shiny clipboard and said “Not that it has anything to do with you, but I’m as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth”
I could hear a few people laughing behind me and knew my grandmother would be laughing too.