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An unwelcome ‘Road to Damascus’ moment

That’s it – I’ve had it up to here now … and from this point forward I shall be going to go to my grave behaving as disgracefully as I can.

Those Rusters who have been following this organ from the very first will be aware of our mission statement to observe and comment upon the world from our perspective as senior citizens literally ‘watching the world go by’ as the 21st Century dribbles on into the future leaving behind the existence we used to know in our halcyon years and taking us to God knows – if you believe in Him – where.

Inevitably, a strand in our coverage was always going to be that of reviving memories both good and bad from the past – the great moments in history, sport, fashion, evolution, revolution, education, the arts, social interactions that we had experienced both individually and collectively and embraced with enthusiasm … but also some of the lesser and more troubling ones that we only too happy to leave behind as new technologies, political and social movements, the ever-changing balance of geo-political power and influence and, of course, the obsessions of the generations following ours constantly moving the cursor along the time continuum from left to right.

A constant factor – even quite early on – was our recognition that retaining our sense of humour (an ever-present component of the human condition) was essential.

Not least because, as our grip on the present slipped slowly away, e.g. instances of us setting off from our living rooms to our kitchens in order to collect – or do – something, only to find that when we got there we wouldn’t be able to remember what it was, increased …  an ability to laugh at oneself was going to be a positive.

Yesterday I experienced an epiphany watershed moment which rocked me to the core, prompted a personal sense of humour failure and set me on a course of re-evaluating who I am and what the hell I am doing here on Earth.

Let me expand.

I’m something of a creature of habit, me. I awake and rise every morning with a schedule whose structure is relatively straightforward and simple. Either actively planned or by routine I will have a set number of domestic and other chores to accomplish, after which (as it were) the remainder of the day will be mine to do with as I please.

Which is why, as each day begins, I am coiled in readiness like a special forces soldier with a mission plan that, ideally, is going to be completed as swiftly and early as possible.

Yesterday my first and most important task was to undertake a shop covering both food and necessary items of hardware and/or utility at my local branch of a major supermarket chain. (I shall not name it here, partly to avoid having to add the caveat that “other supermarket chains are available”).

Having consulted the internet, I had established in advance that its advertised opening time was 0800 hours and therefore pulled up in the happily sparsely-populated car park at three minutes past, used nearly the ‘hole in the wall’ machine to obtain some cash and then made my way towards the supermarket entrance.

This was the point at which complications entered, stage right.

The layout had been changed since my previous visit. After weeks of having to walk round to the far left side of the building in order to join the queue of shoppers being ‘admitted’ to the premises one-by-one, it appeared that the layout had now reverted to how it was before the virus pandemic began – the entrance was now once again in the middle of the building.

I grabbed a trolley and walked towards it. As I arrived, I attracted the attention of the young female staffer on ‘admittance’ duty and asked “Am I okay to come this way?”, to which she responded in the affirmative and simultaneously waved me through with both energy and customer-friendly politeness.

I progressed inside and then carried out my shopping task with welcome ease and speed.

I proudly regard myself as being something of an expert shopper at the establishment because I know in exactly which aisle each item is located and plan my route accordingly whilst barely having to look at my shopping list at all. I did gradually notice that the place was relatively free of fellow shoppers but at the time I put this down to the fact that I had arrived on site just minutes after its advertised opening time.

About forty minutes after arriving, whilst whizzing on my way in pursuit of my next item, I had occasion to return close enough to the main entrance door to survey the scene there.

My friendly young female staffer in charge of ‘admissions’ was going about her business. No issue with that – she was efficient and, as ever, courteous.

Then I suddenly heard her advise a couple at the entrance (I should estimate in their late thirties) of the form.

… Yes, this is the period reserved for essential workers and the elderly. The store doesn’t open to the general public until nine o’ clock …”, and with that she pointed to the far side of the store, where previously I had myself queued to enter on numerous occasions, and where there was already a fast-lengthening queue of prospective shoppers gathering in readiness for their 0900 hours start.

By now, dear reader, you may be able to tell where this post is coming from.

I reckon I’m a pretty average guy for a sixty-eight-year-old. Most days, inside, my impression is that I could comfortably pass as a mid-thirty-something – well, okay, at worst a thirty-nine-year-old.

But here, just over half an hour before, approaching the entrance, I had been cheerfully ‘waved through’ by my very helpful female staffer as (clearly, in her eyes) a patently evident qualifier for the ‘elderly’ (over 70) category which, along with  its ‘essential worker’ equivalent, was by convention permitted to shop before the rest of the general public was even allowed in!

I was simultaneously greatly affronted – and also chastened – by the experience.

How could any female between the ages of puberty and menopause – upon beholding my (maximum) thirty-nine-year-looking visage, physique and bearing – have possibly mistaken me for a decrepit seventy-year-old?!?

It wasn’t just the contemplation of this outrage that stopped me in my tracks. It was the fact that my friendly female staffer hadn’t even had to pause to double-check the evidence of her own eyes. She had plainly, on a first look, immediately identified me as belonging to the oldies’ ‘high risk’ (self-isolating/sheltering) group.

I had never been so quickly and enthusiastically “waved through” in my life!



About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts