I posted the other day about word that set my teeth on edge. In an exchange with my #bloggersbash admin team, I had a grumble about the excessive use of L*L to indicate the humorous nature of a comment. So today Miserable Mister wants to turn his curmudgeonly attention to phrases. In mechanised voices.
Particularly in Supermarkets. In a lot of retail stores where you collect a basket of goods and take them to the till, these days there are automated check outs. Those check outs are designed for our impatient lives as well as reducing manning and thus cutting jobs and costs. However they do go wrong, you often need someone to authorise or unfreeze the little treasures and so on. I’m pretty tolerant of all of that but the one thing that is as unwanted as a fart in a lift is a mechanised voice of no discernible accent telling you there is
an unexpected item in the bagging area
On the news last Friday we heard that Tesco, one of the large British retailers of comestibles is to do away with both the voice and indeed this phrase and replace it. Click on the above link and listen; if you have not experienced this cheery non-person telling you you’re wrong without telling you in what way, then you are very lucky. Maybe where you live you have similar repeated expressions that generate phrase-rage? Maybe it’s on public transport or in a lift. But if you are a sentient being of taste and discernment there will be some pre-packaged voice over that ‘does your head in’.
And so, while you ponder you own pet peeve, I leave you with a short story I wrote, stimulated by this most wretched of phrases. RIP, and good riddance. This is your epitaph.
Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area
By Geoff Le Pard
‘Madam? Madam, are you all right?’ The woman speaking was crouched down, facing Jeannette, her grey jacket gaping open to reveal a pink T-shirt. “Would you like to sit for a moment?’ She took Jeannette’s arm until she was sitting on the floor.
‘Unexpected item in the bagging area. Unexpected item in the bagging area…’
The woman pushed herself upright. ‘Here, I’ll stop this. I… Goodness.’
Jeannette looked where the woman was looking. In amongst the plastic bags, the box of cornflakes and the pack of nine toilet rolls sat a child, staring coldly and steadily at Jeannette.
Jeannette held the child’s gaze. Did she know him? Her?
By now other shoppers had crowded round. One bent down close to the assistant. ‘I saw it. Really odd.’ She had large red hands that she didn’t seem to able to keep still.
‘What?’ The shop assistant turned to look at the speaker, obviously irritated to be interrupted.
‘The kid hit her,’ she waved at Jeannette, ‘with that tin.’ The offending tin lay next to Jeannette. Spaghetti in tomato sauce. ‘Right there. Oh, she’s bleeding.’
Jeannette put a hand to her head; sure enough, when her fingers touched her scalp under her hair it was sticky and tender.
‘Let me see that.’ The witness to the incident came closer still.
The shop assistant must have had enough. ‘Madam, perhaps you would give this woman some air.’ The assistant waved rather vigorously at the helpdesk; another assistant made her way over while the witness stood back, mumbling. The first assistant said, ‘Daphne, can you grab the first aid box and then perhaps the customer wheelchair?’ She turned to Jeannette. ‘It might be best if you came and sat in the rest room, with your son until you felt alright.’
Jeannette looked at the child again. My son? She narrowed her eyes; the child began to suck its thumb.
The witness wasn’t finished. ‘Why’d the kid hit you? What did you do?’
The first assistant stood up and pulled her uniform straight. She wasn’t tall but did her best to look important. ‘I don’t think those questions are helpful right now, do you? Perhaps…’
The witness wasn’t so easily put off. ‘Yeah but we can’t just stand by, can we? That’s what used to happen with them creeps, ain’t it? We have a right to intervene.’ She glared at Jeannette. ‘So? Why’d he hit you? Little lad like that, must have had a reason.’
Jeannette tried to remember. She could see herself bending down; she was picking something up. And then the assistant was talking to her.
‘Well?’ The witness had the floor.
Another woman, in a large coat unsuitable for the hot weather, leant forward, next to the witness. ‘Why’d she put her kid on the bagging area, anyway? Hiding him like that? Maybe she was going to leave him. Abandon him.’
‘No, Madam, I think…’ The assistant looked around rather desperately apparently hoping a colleague would come to her aid.
‘Yeah. Why’d you do that?’
Jeannette had no idea. She had no recollection of putting the child on the counter. She had no recollection of the child. She felt a panic grip her chest. She had no recollection of coming into the store, or how she had got to it, or where he had come from. She couldn’t… She gasped. She couldn’t remember her name. She… ‘Jeannette.’
‘You what?’ The witness looked confused.
‘My name,’ said Jeannette. ‘It’s Jeannette.’
‘Yeah, right.’ The witness looked around, catching one of the other shoppers’ eye. The shrug was clearly meant to indicate she thought Jeannette a bit simple.
Jeannette looked at the child. ‘I don’t know his name.’ The child stared back.
‘Ain’t he yours?’ The witness looked somewhere between confused and angry. ‘Is that why he hit you? You trying to steal him? Christ, we need the cops.’ She prodded the open mouthed assistant. ‘’ere, you. You need to get the cops, pronto.’
The crowd was now perhaps a dozen strong and crowding closer as they realised a scandal was about to erupt. The assistant shook her head and pushed the witness back. She said to Jeanette, ‘I think you had better come to the staff room, Madam.’
‘What about the kid,’ someone at the back said. ‘Yeah,’ came another voice. ‘You can’t leave him with her, the paedo.’
The word ‘paedo’ had a galvanising effect on the crowd. The mummer of interest, of growing excitement began to change to self-righteous anger. The assistant looked anxiously towards the staff room; her colleague with two others were making their way towards them. ‘If you’d stand back, please, everyone, we will soon sort this out. I…’
She stopped. A man was pushing his way to the front, his face wreathed in concern. ‘Jeannette? You ok?’ He looked at the crowd and the assistant. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Who are you, sir?’ The assistant eyed the man warily.
Jeannette looked up at the man. ‘Roger?’
The man froze, all colour draining from his cheeks. ‘You know me?’
Jeannette nodded. ‘Roger. My husband.’
The man sank to his knees, tears coursing down his cheeks. ‘Oh thank God.’ He stared up at the fluorescent lighting. ‘THANK YOU GOD,’ he bellowed at the ceiling.
Every one of the by-standers stared as Roger enveloped Jeannette in his arms, holding her so tight it looked like he might do her an injury. He said, ‘You’ve come back to me. How…?’
The witness was the first to react. ‘The kid hit her with a tin. There.’ She pointed at the crust of blood on Jeannette’s scalp.
‘Oh my dear. Does it hurt?’ Carefully he eased the hair away. ‘It’s only a small cut.’ He looked at the witness and then the assistant. ‘Maybe she could sit somewhere while I’ll call and ambulance.’
Jeannette knew she didn’t want an ambulance though she didn’t know why. ‘No, Roger. I’ll be fine.’
“Are you sure?’
‘Yes. I just need somewhere quiet. To talk. Everything’s strange.’
Roger nodded; he looked at the crowd which had thinned rather. ‘Yes.’ He smiled slightly. ‘My wife had an operation. Something went wrong and she lost her memory. It’s been six months. She was fine in herself only she didn’t know who she was.’
The witness frowned again. ‘Is it safe, her being out like that?’
‘Oh yes. The doctors were keen. They thought it might bring it back.’ He smiled again. ‘And now it has.’
The assistant felt a huge surge of relief. She said a few words to her colleagues who retreated with the wheelchair and the first aid kit. By now only the witness and the assistant were left.
Roger held out his hand and helped Jeannette to her feet. He checked she was stable and turned to the assistant. ‘I hope it’s alright if we forget the shopping. I just want to get her home.’
The assistant nodded. ‘Yes, of course.’
Roger smiled his gratitude and eased Jeannette round to face the exit. ‘Come on.’
Roger looked back. ‘Yes?’
Roger looked confused. ‘What about him?’
‘Aren’t you going to take him?’
‘What? He’s not ours?’ Once again Roger turned and led Jeannette away. The assistant looked at the witness. They looked at the child.
Unexpected item in the bagging are. Unexpected item in the bagging area…