the dun coloured woman muttered crossly, pointing over her shoulder to the Ludlow Speciality Food Centre. Our paths very briefly crossed in the car park, as I was allowing Millie to stretch her legs on the broad grass verges and the mouselike creature was searching for her car. Everything about her was colourless, from her hair to her shoes, even her canvas shopping bag, which held a small lump of something in the bottom, was grey. When she stopped at a small red car I was most surprised. Admittedly, the car was covered in mud, but so is mine; it goes with country living. As I was moving off she volunteered the remark: “I don’t go much for Christmas.” Who’d have guessed?
We’d already been inside the large and very expensive indoor market and given it up as a bad job. As soon as Millie had done her duty we were going to go on to Ludlow. It was Saturday, the worst shopping day of the week, but a fierce and persistent chest infection had lost us a whole week of preparations and it was high time we caught up. The Aldi parking lot wasn’t too bad, we quickly found a space; however, they are the nasty kind of supermarket who have cameras installed that check you in and out, and as I had already fallen foul of them on a previous occasion, being done for a £40 parking fine, we drove on into the town centre. Bedlam here too. After a ten minute stop in a ‘loading-and-unloading-only-bay’, with Beloved staying in the car while I raced to collect a few pre-ordered items, we saw an actual, honest-to-goodness free parking space for disabled badge holders. Beloved has one of those because of his poor eyesight; that slot was ours, we would grab it or die in the attempt. Beloved got out, rushed - well, tottered - down and across the road, and planted himself in the space, furiously waving his stick at all comers, while I manoeuvred myself into a position from which to access it. We should have tied Millie into the slot; I am certain there are drivers who would gladly kill an elderly man for a parking slot on a Saturday morning before Christmas, whereas surely nobody would run down a defenceless dog.
They were selling Christmas trees in the market; another couple was looking at the same time. I saw one I liked and stood it up in its pot. “Actually,” the chap said, “we were just debating whether we should have that one you are holding.” Debating? Well, wait while I fetch you a chair to make your debate more comfortable. What the man was really saying was 'We’ve had our eye on that tree but we’re still dithering over the purchase and please do not take it away from us’. In my thirty years in the UK I’ve learned to decipher the small print in-between the spoken words and although I am often tempted to make an ordinary Englishman (including mine) come to the point, I usually can’t be bothered. I chose the next tree along, pretty much an exact replica of the first one. Time to get it into the car, not an easy undertaking. All the shopping was repacked and went into the back with poor Millie, who simply budged up and never said a word of complaint. The small tree sat on the back seat, leaning forward, obscuring my view of the rear window. But we had succeeded in getting it into the car, with the help of the stallholder.
We were hungry by now and decided to stop off at a roadside eating place on the way home. This too was packed. We asked to join a couple whose table had two spare seats, not something one usually does; Beloved leaves that sort of thing to me, I wanted food and I wanted to sit down and eat it and there were two spare seats - what’s the problem? The couple was friendly enough and even smiled their willingness to share the table. No sooner had I sat down when there was an almighty crash behind me and cups and saucers, jugs, teapots including contents, came flying past me and shattered immediately to the left of me, hot water and tea forming a puddle around my shoes. Like a pilot who just manages to avoid the village and crash lands his plane in the field outside instead, the young man carrying the tray had the presence of mind to aim for the gap between two tables when he took the flying leap that turned his load into a potential weapon of mass destruction.
Did I say it’s bedlam out there? We came home and in the evening, for the first time ever, I sat down at my computer and ordered a whole month’s worth of groceries from an online supermarket, to be delivered to my door at my convenience. We will still have to go into town for a few special items, but we’ll choose time and place very carefully indeed.