Sometimes, the answer only becomes clear when you stop trying to work it out, and give in to the incongruity of things. I was buying some shopping at Sainsbury’s in Balham. I picked a check-out where the conveyor belt was empty and the cashier looked as if she was waiting for the next customer.
But as I started to unload my shopping, she looked up, shook her head and said:
‘You’re closed?’ I said, thinking that must be what she meant.
‘Not closed,’ she insisted.
So I went on unloading my shopping. Upon which she shouted, ‘Not closed!’ and motioned at me to take my shopping back off the belt.
‘Not closed?’ I asked.
‘Not closed,’ she said.
And it was at this point that I uncharacteristically gave up arguing, for reasons I shall explain later, walked to the neighbouring check-out and unloaded my shopping there.As I was doing so, another customer started unloading her shopping at the ‘Not Closed’ counter.
‘Not closed!’ the cashier shouted at her as she put a tub of Lurpak on to the motionless belt.
‘Not closed?’ said the lady, looking as confused as I had been.
‘Not closed!’ the cashier shouted again.
‘You’re closed?’ the lady said, picking up the Lurpak.
‘Not closed!’ the cashier yelled, getting really quite agitated now.
‘I’m sorry,’ said the lady, putting the Lurpak back on to the belt, ‘I thought you said you were closed.’
‘Not closed!’ the cashier yelled, and motioned for her to take her items away.
‘Oh, you are closed?’ said the customer.
And on it went. Just give up, I thought, as I watched her putting the tub of butter on and off the belt. Give up, throw in the towel, put your hands in the air. Admit that it makes no sense. There is no point fighting. The reason I had not even begun to fight, on this occasion, was that I had just spent several gruelling days trying to deny that I had called the RSPCA to a horse with bad feet.
Several people in the village where I have my little weekend place had secretly called. But not me. I don’t have much confidence in the RSPCA. But what I had done was this: a few weeks ago, in this column, I called certain people who keep horses on the cheap ‘pikeys’. And so, because I used the p-word, it was concluded by the unofficial committee that decides things that it must be me who called the RSPCA.
I argued a bit. I pointed out that I have attacked the RSPCA publicly for political bias. But in the end, I decided not to deny it any more, because shouting the odds about how you are not one of the people who reported a horse with deformed feet is a bit like arguing that you are not gay. I might not be gay — at least I wasn’t the last time I checked — but I wouldn’t want to sue someone who said I was because there is nothing wrong with being gay in the first place.
‘It’s fine,’ I said to the latest in a long line of friends to call and inform me that I was being talked about as the culprit. ‘Let it be me.’
‘But that’s not fair,’ he said.
‘It’s not about what’s fair. It’s about what people think,’ I explained. ‘The two things are never going to be the same. The system needs a scapegoat. And I said the word pikey. I asked for it.’
It’s true. I should have known better. No one ever, in the history of telling jokes, has got away with calling anyone a pikey. Richard Hammond of Top Gear didn’t. And neither shall I. It looked for a few weeks as if I had got away with it. But that was just an illusion. So I am hereby apologising for my pejorative madness. I realise now that there is no such thing as a pikey. No one is a pikey. Pikey is a term which describes precisely no one on the entire planet. I cannot think why anyone thought fit to put the five letters together in the first place.
No chain-smoking, benefit-claiming horse-owner is a pikey. No one who leaves their horse in a field without trimming its feet, to save £20, is a pikey. These individuals are, most definitely, Not Pikey, I now realise. Oh, and looking back on it, it occurs to me what the ‘Not Closed’ cashier meant. The poor woman was, in fact, struggling with her till lid, which had become stuck in the up position. What she was trying to communicate was that the lid wouldn’t close, and so she could not serve another customer until someone fixed it.
Closed. Not Closed. Pikey. Not Pikey. You can see the difference now, can’t you?