I’m in Aldershot’s Co-op pushing a trolley laden only with a frozen chicken. The little doctor and I haven’t started serious shopping yet. She can testify to the strange events that occur this day, there, in that supermarket.
It’s a long aisle shopperless save the little doctor and I. Musak plays. To my right a large, florid woman stands behind the cooked meat counter. She has tongs and arranges the sausages. To my left a callow youth stands on a stepladder stacking upper shelves. As I pass between them the woman, in a loud and raucous voice, cries. “What’s the code for corned beef?”
I am rankled. She’s shouted right through me! I bridle. Without a moment’s hesitation, doubtless possessed by an impish spirit, I shout, “Two! Six! Eight!”
The moment passes and I continue, grinning, down the aisle. The little doctor looks at me, surprised and worried. But then, I never live up to her expectations.
Then I realise that no-one seems to have noticed my angry intervention. My grin fades. I turn and approach the callow youth.
“Excuse me,” I say, “I’m sorry to trouble you.”
He turns to me, customer-friendly face all set.
“Did you hear,” I say, “That lady asking for the code for corned beef?”
“I did, sir,” he says, “I did.”
I say, “And did you also hear someone shout ‘268’?”
“I did, sir,” he says, “I did, indeed.”
I say, “I have to ask you: Is ‘268’ the code for corned beef?”
“Yes, sir,” he says, “It is.”
I look at him and he looks at me.
And then he says, “Now you mention it I did wonder who had spoken.”