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 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.’
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?