Loving the Small Encounters

“I just can’t get it this week.” 

That’s how I open the conversation.


“I’ve been trying and trying and I think it’s beyond me.”

“Here, listen again.” 

I pack cartons of milk into my bag and listen again as the check out guy whistles a little more of his tune. He makes a warbling milkman-ish kind of a sound. 

“I really feel I should know it.”

"Will I tell you?"

"Go on so."

“”And then I go and spoil it all…"”

“No! I should have bloody got that.”

“I love the Robbie Williams version… you know with yer wan.”


“Aye, her.”

“I don’t like that version at all. Robbie did a cover of Mr. Bojangles that was possibly the worst thing I ever heard. It’s got to be Frank for me.”

“Frank and Nancy. Your receipt.”

“Thanks. See ya.”


I don’t get the same check out guy every week but, when I get the whistling guy, we always chat about something. If there’s a good voucher in the paper, he’ll send me off for one and he’ll find it and tear it out and apply the deduction to my bill. Or else he'll be whistling a tune and I'll try to name it. Always something.

Another one of the check out guys is a great science fiction movie fan. He was troubled by a childhood film he remembered clearly but could not track down. He described it to me and I found it for him and had the information for the next check out. It was called ‘Wild Wild Planet’, in case you're bothered.

We chat warmly and with mutual interest, the check out guys and me… until the groceries are all checked out. Then it’s over. We both move on. We both have other things to do.

I’ve come to realise that there’s a truism here that applies to my life in general and perhaps particularly to my Social Media interaction. 

I love the small encounters. The brief chat, vibrant and engaged and, crucially, with a visible end clearly in sight. The more off beat and odd the conversation, the better. In ‘Godot’, Vladimir implored Estragon to ‘return the ball once in a way’. I love it when people ‘return the ball’ conversationally like that. I fling out a wild veering ball and they magically get a foot or a head on to it and somehow get it back.

I embrace the shorter form of encounters.

And there’s the converse, as there always is. 

I tend to ease myself away from any situation with the potential for a long drawn out exchange. Brevity, for me, is the soul of wit. It’s grown to a stage where I will actively try to avoid being cornered or drawn into something long. If I can get in and be secure in the knowledge that I am getting out again soon, then I am yours (for a finite period). But if you need me for the next couple of hours then, in the words of Bob Dylan, “it ain’t me, babe" or, in the words of Jules from Pulp Fiction, “We’d have to be talking about one charming… pig.”

That’s why I like the check out guys. They only want to talk for as long as it takes to ring my vittles though but, for that exact length of time, they’re well into it. 

I'm heading there now. I hope it’s the whistling guy.

I fancy a short tune. 


Ken Armstrong said...

Today's chat was with one of the check out ladies (with the adjoining check out lady abandoning her station to join in. The lady was considering buying one of those 'Vac Pac' storage bags. You know, where you put your old clothes in and then all the air is pulled out leaving it vacuum sealed.

Me: Could you murder someone and put the body in there.
Check out Lady 1: The best way to lose a body is to bring it to the coffin on the night before the funeral and put it in there with the other body.
Me: You need to make sure the sons are strong. So they can carry the two bodies without collapsing.
Check Out Lady 2 - The best way to murder someone is to hit them with a frozen leg of lamb and then thaw it out and feed it to the policemen when they come asking about it.

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife’s like this with the Tesco delivery guys and gals; there’re actually quite a few women these days. Her favourite is a Pole. Considering how little time they spend together they get into all sorts of subjects. The only one that jumps to mind was English versus Polish idioms. She looks forward to these wee encounters but woe betide any of them who doesn’t follow her rules when it comes to depositing the bags in our flat. Most she’s got trained but every now and then a new one’ll turn up with his own ideas as to how things should be done. More fool him.

I’m not normally a chatter. Not with the Tesco drivers (on the odd occasion I’ve had to take the messages in) nor the postman nor even the Witnesses when they come round; we’ve never had the Mormons since we’ve been here. Glaswegians are generally friendly people and especially the older ones who’ll engage you at a bus stop as if they’ve known you all their lives but that outgoingness is dying out even here. Which is a shame. I’ve lived in this block of flats for… it must be thirteen years now and there are people in this building I’ve never had a conversation with. Even the ones I tend to interact with, taking in parcels and the like. Apart from next door. She’s lovely. I get to take care of her cats every now and then when her and her wife (still feels odd to write that) go away for a few days.

One of the problems online is a lack of depth. All you have to do is look at the exchanges on Facebook. But I like blogs because it’s amazing what you can say in a few hundred words. You write 600 words. I’ll reply in 300. Seems about right. Three minutes investment from me; a minute and a half from you. That’s about as long as my wife spends with the Tesco guy.

Ken Armstrong said...

True. (five seconds) :)

Anonymous said...

Haha, check out lady 2 is intriguing yet disturbing. And I agree, everyday should have quick, witty banter exchanged or it's not really a good day.

You're lucky to have such freshness while buying your "vittles". I find most people to be like bread; dry, stale, processed or packaged. Occasionally we get lucky and find a fresh, hearty slice of wow...