Isn’t it strange how, for absolutely no reason, you can take an instant dislike to someone? It’s totally illogical, but the cut of their clothes or the way they walk, or just the way they look back at you can colour your judgement about them and irritate you beyond reason. Then they do something that leaves you speechless and totally humbled.
As a department manager in one of the UK’s leading supermarkets, one of my key responsibilities was the control of waste, so every day considerable time was spent on marking down the price of short dated perishable stock. Some departments did this early in the day but mostly it was left to the late team, so after the 5pm hand-over meeting, we did a sweep of the store and marked down all the relevant items.
Of course the customers were aware of this and you’d see the same old faces waiting for you, hoping for a bargain – and who could blame them.
But some wise guys realised that we also did another sweep every hour, and they’d put stuff in their trolley and wander off, only to re-appear just in time for the next mark-down. They’d insist we marked down the stuff in their trolley too, and we couldn’t refuse even though it messed up our figures. But what could we do – the customer is king. And we were glad to get rid of it, anyway, instead of having to dump it as waste at midnight.
Anyway, one young man started to appear every Thursday evening and for some peculiar reason I took an instant dislike to him. His whole demeanour annoyed me, his long hair, the stud in his ear, his unshaven face. He looked like a hippy who’d missed the boat. And what irritated me even more was the way he loaded up his trolley with bread and ready meals as well as cake and stuff, even though it had to be consumed by midnight that day – unless you froze it, but you’d need one big freezer for all that.
Then he’d keep coming back – 6pm, 7pm, 8pm …
One evening he was still there at 9pm so I couldn’t resist a sarcastic snipe. ‘Are you going to eat all that?’
‘No, no,’ he said in a soft voice that belied his overall wild-man demeanour. ‘It’s not for me. I buy it for the old folk in my street.’
‘Oh,’ was all I could say.
‘The thing is this,’ he continued, and there wasn’t an ounce of smugness in his voice. ‘I lost my job in Port Talbot steel a few months ago, and it was a shock when I saw how much money I got to live on from the Social Security. I can tell you, I struggled to buy just one decent meal a day. I’ve always shopped here but usually on a Saturday morning, and at the time I had no need to look for a reduced-to-clear bargain. But because I was spending my days looking for work, I came here late and I was delighted with what I found in the mark-down area. Then one week I took some stuff I had left over to my mother’s friend down our street, and the look on her face was heart-breaking. The poor woman had even less to live on than me, and she isn’t the only one. There are nine old folk in our street alone, so I set myself a challenge. I would put five pounds aside every week and see what I could get for it.’
He gave a sheepish grin. ‘I soon discovered the best bargains were on a Thursday – I don’t know why – and then I noticed that when some people came back around you marked down their stuff again. So I tried it, and I was delighted at the cheerful way you accommodated me. No fuss, no question, just good humour and a joke. And the stuff I got for my fiver made the time wandering the store well worth the effort. I usually try to get each one of them a loaf of bread and a ready meal, then something sweet. Sometimes it’s a bit of mix and match, but that only adds to the variety and they have great fun arguing over who’s having what.’
I don’t work there anymore, of course, so they can’t sack me for saying it now, but every Thursday evening after that I would have a weird ‘Senior Moment’ and accidently leave a trolley full of bread and ready meals – and a few sweet things too – in the back-up chiller, only remembering it when I saw this strange hippy coming up the aisle …