I went to Waitrose to get more Christmas cards, since it was that or central Colchester. The emergency cards I ended up buying at Tesco a few years ago had such tacky artwork and naff wording that I still remember them with shame. Since I needed to go to a supermarket I thought I might as well combine it with a preliminary Christmas shop, for things like nuts and ginger beer that are not going to go off between now and Boxing Day.
Waitrose was not at all crowded when I arrived, though it was getting busier by the time I left. I spent a long time looking forlornly for Paxo stuffing, but couldn't find any. How can there be so many kinds of risotto rice but no packets of stuffing mixture? We eat Paxo stuffing once a year and once only, as part of Christmas lunch. It is traditional. I know it is awfully 1970s, but that's the point of traditions. I couldn't find any sausage meat and chestnut stuffing in the chiller cabinets either. Perhaps stuffing is just hopelessly out of fashion, like being called Mildred or standing up when the national anthem is played. Maybe people who shop in Waitrose don't eat stuffing, or make their own from sourdough breadcrumbs and fresh herbs. Or perhaps it was somewhere and I just couldn't find it. I shall try in Tesco the next time I am passing. There are 364 other days in the year to eat quinoa and red wild rice, and for Christmas lunch I want Paxo sage and onion.
I stared for a long time at the packets of biscuits to eat with cheese, wondering if there was any point in buying anything besides Carr's water biscuits. They are the perfect cheese biscuit. There is nothing, simply nothing so good with a soft French cheese as a plain water biscuit. Once, by mistake, the Systems Administrator picked up a packet that were flavoured with black pepper. Flavoured is too kind a description: they were adulterated. I wish manufacturers would not try to extend their range without making it obvious on the packaging whether you are buying the original article. I was joined by another, equally indecisive, customer, and we agreed that there was too much choice, and that some biscuits were too strongly flavoured when the cheese had a flavour of its own and the biscuits weren't supposed to compete, and perhaps it was safer to stick to what you knew but perhaps that was boring.
The queue for the till was not too long. Instead the hazard lay on the other side, where a Rotarian was hovering. He offered to help pack my bags, and I said that was kind but I would rather pack them myself. A Rotarian might have been better than a Scout, but I really do prefer to do my own packing. That way I can be sure that all the heavy things end up in bags together at the bottom of the trolley, unlike the time in Sainsbury when we succumbed to the pressure to let the staff help us pack to keep the queue moving, and found when we got home that the tiny demented woman wearing a Santa hat had pushed the edge of a tin through the foil lid of some yogurt, while a melamine tray that she had with much trouble succeeded in squeezing into a plastic bag had been left behind during the confusion. Also, I would rather chocolates destined to be given as presents didn't emerge with spots of condensation or worse on their packaging because they'd been shoved in next to the pork chops. The Rotarian seemed reluctant to be rebuffed, and hovered over me, standing inside what I still considered to be my personal space even in a fairly busy supermarket and watching as I packed.
As soon as anybody watches me do anything, especially if I am trying to do it a hurry, I become slower and clumsier. It got worse when I lifted the second bag to put it in the trolley and the bottom split, shooting ginger beer bottles and bags of nuts over the checkout. The Rotarian by now was standing next to me in the aisle, squawking faintly, and I told him again that I would really, really, really rather do my own packing. The woman on the till could see I was trying to keep the heavy things together, and pointedly handed me a four-pack of tinned tomatoes to go with the mincemeat and flour, and the Rotarian finally retreated. When I got home I saw in the Body and Mind section of my free Telegraph that for £149 I could buy a Wellbe wearable device, that would measure my blood pressure, track my location, and tell me what situations I had found stressful. Thank you kindly, Zach Sivan and Doron Libshtein of the meditation site Mentors Channel, but I think I already know that. The random conversation with a stranger about cheese biscuits was fine.
Addendum Mr Fluffy has spent the entire afternoon curled loosely in his new fleece Cat Snoozer, not looking as if he were voluntarily going anywhere. I went and bought a second one to go on the remaining space on top of the cupboard, so that they could have a bed each. Touching beds might not be a good idea, however. We put the old blanket in the gap last night, and with two cats side by side there was a certain amount of tail swishing followed by prodding, so it may be that cat beds need to be the feline equivalent of two swords' lengths apart, like the front benches in the House of Commons.