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I might have just made a complete arse of myself

Only the other day in Apostrophell, I was writing about how one should be sure of oneself before correcting anyone else. Perhaps I should have heeded my own advice a little more closely yesterday while in a city centre branch of Boots. In my defence, other backlash complaints, like the behaviour of children in shops, clouded my judgement. However, let me tell you what happened so you can judge for yourself whether I am a complete arse, or just a partial one.

As dutiful shopping partner, sometimes it is necessary to take on the important role of standing waiting with the bags. This role allows the other member of the shopping team to go off and investigate something of vital importance to the shopping trip. In this instance, the lady of the partnership was trying to find a particular gift set which, although there were a few on the shelf, she required in a state which could be given to someone, rather than bedraggled, opened, damaged and otherwise mauled by previous customers.

I stood near the shelves where Boots keep their Barefoot Doctor range of products.  For the uninitiated, the Barefoot Doctor would appear to be a chap who uses natural remedies and essences to make overpriced smelly things. These things are probably good for you, and when I use the work smelly, I don't mean that they are unpleasantly smelling, more that smell is one of the main senses you would use in evaluating them. I had already examined these items when the incident in question occurred.

My attention was drawn to a man and his two young children. Normally, such a sight would be unremarkable, but it was accompanied by the sound of someone who, apparently, could not speak to his disinterested sons without putting on a ludicrously over-the-top special tone of voice - you know the sort, they used to be adopted by children's TV presenters and people in professional child care. Perhaps talking down to children is necessary in some cases, but it's something I abhor, especially when the children are no longer toddlers. Slightly irritated by the annoying way this man achieved his trying-to-make-everything-sound-exciting-for-kids tone of voice, and basically bored at having nothing to do but hold some bags, I watched the threesome.

Perhaps they were with the mother, since a lady of the right age was briefly with them. I ruled this out when she disappeared and the troublesome threesome proceeded to walk around the stand where the Barefoot Doctor kept his products. From the way that they were looking at things and the way that Dad was chivying his sons, it seemed to me that they were looking at the products with a view to buying Mum a present. That's fair enough, I thought. Perhaps Mum will enjoy the smelly things which can be bought at over-the-odds prices. I even thought that Dad got away with it when one of the sons read out the label on the bottle of bath oil - "Barefoot Doctor Damn Sexy Heavenly Bath" - the son didn't bother asking about what was meant by sexy, though I might have enjoyed hearing the chap try to explain it in his stupid singsong tone of voice. Perhaps Dad was even luckier that Junior didn't notice the "Barefoot Doctor Chi/qi Orgasmic Shower Mousse"!

As I mentioned, I think that talking down to children is a bad thing when they reach a certain age. In my opinion, it forces them to remain babyish when perhaps they deserve the respect to allow them to think for themselves more. Therefore, it came as no surprise to me when the young lad with the bottle of "Barefoot Doctor Chi/Qi Parfum Homme/Femme Private Mix" in his hand dropped it. Dutifully, he reported the damage to his father and it was down to the responsible adult to deal with the situation.

Earlier, during that visit to Boots, I had noted the generally clumsy way that its patrons tend to handle the stock. Indeed, if it had not been for people damaging Boots goods, I would not have been standing waiting for a gift set to be provided intact. However, it's not always the case that people who knock things over or drop them just pretend that nothing happened and walk away. A young girl had dropped a tester bottle of something or other and, after I'd found and picked up the spray nozzle which had flown off it (assuming that when I returned to the site of the accident she'd be gone), she approached me for it to allow her to fix the bottle and return it to the shelf.

So, my faith in whether people want to do the right thing in these situations was in something of a state of flux. Watching the son report his breakage to the father, I wondered what he would do. What I saw was a man kicking the shards of the broken bottle towards the shelf whence it came and then sodding off with sons in tow. That was it. No obvious attempt to sort out the mess, offer to pay for it, or get it cleared up. Then I saw other customers getting their feet doused in perfume because of the mess that had not been attended to. This combination of circumstance aroused my sense of indignation. Sure, Boots can probably afford the loss of 15 worth of overpriced perfume (at this stage, I was looking at the prices on the shelf to see how much the kid had wasted in his clumsiness), but there's a principle at stake.

At this stage, her ladyship returned with the undamaged version of the gift box and, returning some shopping bags to her, I set off to confront Mr Talking-down-man on his thoroughly dishonourable behaviour.

Me: "Excuse me. Since your lad has just smashed half a bottle of 15 perfume, do you not think you should, at least, report the breakage to someone."

At this point, I expected the man to bow his head and say something along the lines of "You're absolutely right old-chap, I've been an absolute rotter. I'll sort it out immediately". What he actually said was:

"I'm sorting it out now, actually, but [holds out hand as though to engage in handshake] thank you for interfering."

So, it was my turn to look crestfallen. I'd like to say that I came back with some witty response, or other put down, or that I apologised to the man for accusing him of being dishonourable in the first place. However, I did not, I cannot even remember what I said, though it was probably along the lines of "fair enoughski". I got the hell out of his way, noting two things:

  1. I should have left well alone.
  2. That stupid voice he was using with his kids - it was his normal voice. He is simply a man afflicted with a silly timbre and cadence.

Now, maybe I did make an embarrassing situation worse for the man. Perhaps he really was arranging a clean up, though he stood immobile in the shop for a while longer, so it seemed that he was actually doing nothing. Perhaps he'd sent the Mrs off to do the dirty work, which is probably unfair since the kid was in his charge when the breakage occurred. Maybe I'd actually caught him out and he had been too shocked to do anything but deny it. Or, perhaps he was really sorting the problem out and simply showed a large degree of gentlemanly dignity, offering to shake my hand in the wake of my damning allegation.

I will never know. However, I can say:

So, I am truly sorry if I added insult to injury in this instance. However, conversely, I would hope that the incident taught everyone the value of being more careful in future.

I'm just off to cool my reddening cheeks.

28 April 2002
Ashley Frieze