Monday, 11 July 2016

Making Polite Conversation.

I had to buy something from an Argos store today, and it’s the first time I’ve done so since they changed to a touch-screen computerised system. Surprisingly, I managed it perfectly well, but I was amused by the requirement to key in a code word in order to facilitate recognition at the cash desk. Anything between 3 and 8 characters it said, so after much deliberation I chose my favourite garden bird and made my way to the next stage.

The woman regarded me with a certain intensity as I approached the pay point. She didn’t actually say ‘Friend or foe? Advance and be recognised,’ but it was clear from her stare that something similar was going through her mind. I leant on the desk, returned the intensity, and said:

‘Is the Count eating kippers with your mother-in-law tonight?’

Round one to me; the intensity melted into mild confusion:

‘I’m sorry?’

I explained that it was a line from an old comedy classic which gained some currency when I was in high school, and that it was merely a comment on the need to devise a code in order to be recognised. Mine was ‘robin.’ Happy with that, she proceeded to process my order.

I’d noticed that her accent exhibited a distinct Welsh lilt, and not wanting to be thought miserable, aloof, obstreperous, or any of the other pejorative traits normally associated with me, I decided to make polite but trivial conversation.

‘Are you Welsh?’ I asked.


‘Really? You sound Welsh.’

‘Do I? I’m not.’

A brief but heavily pregnant pause ensued, and so I continued:

‘Are you sure you’re not Welsh?’


‘Are you local?’

‘I am, but my dad isn’t.’

‘Where’s your dad from?’


‘Bolton isn’t in Wales.’

‘I know.’

By then the transaction was complete and I moved away to await collection, only to be called back because I’d left my credit card in the machine. You feel really stupid when you do that, don’t you?

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