This is a second story on a theme, which is beginning to look like it has the making of a series. In as much detail as I can remember, what follows is an actual account of what happened to me, earlier today.
One of my responsibilities at work, is to buy stock from a local wholesaler. Although devoid of the middle-class aspirations for glamour, this particular wholesaler resembles a supermarket in layout, except on a larger scale, akin to a warehouse. The peeling and worn through floor paint denotes aisles, which run between rudimentary metal framed racks stacked high with everything from large cans of cooking oil, tins of spices, boxes of fruit, and children’s sweets; to hotel hand-soap dispensers, mop heads, to biscuits, beer and a lot more in between. Most of the products are sold in bulk quantities, this being another distinction between themselves and their upmarket, high street cousins.
I pull a trolley around with me, open on three sides, with a sprung base at one end. I’ve often wondered, why do these sorts of trolleys have a sprung base? I can’t see what function this serves. Anyway, I digress. There I am pulling this trolley around with me, slowly gathering items from my shopping list, manoeuvring around wooden pallets displaying products on special offer. As I turn around the end of an aisle, I am run into by a woman pushing her trolley.
It’s a technical detail, but I’ll include it here anyway. These trolleys, are designed for pulling along behind you. Standard, supermarket models, everyone knows, you push. But not wholesaler trolleys, no. It’s the other way around and any attempt to push them, results in a meandering trail resisting physical efforts to maintain a straight line of travel.
The collision is minor, causing only a few boxes to fall to the floor. The woman, with mid-length brown coloured hair and in her mid-thirties, is Jen. She is dressed in a vintage-style summer skirt, white blouse and red coloured neckerchief with matching colour kid gloves, lipstick and slingback, kitten heel shoes.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” she says, “I think my trolley has a wonky wheel.” She looks genuinely apologetic and pulls a face, biting her bottom lip.
“It’s okay,” I tell her, holding back on explaining the push – pull rules for trolleys, “let me help you with those.” I crouch down and begin grabbing the boxes, placing them back onto her trolley. As I do this, I can’t help but notice every box as being identical, each containing fifty pairs of latex gloves.
Jen sees my curious glance and gives voice to the thoughts in my mind. “That’s a lot of latex gloves, I bet you’re thinking?”
On demand, my mental arithmetic is poor. Even so, I worked out that five layers of boxes, each layer four boxes wide by six boxes long… calculates as six thousand pairs of gloves. Which is a lot of gloves. “I guess you get through a lot during your working day?” I said, as I picked up the last box from the floor.
“You’re right there, what do you think I do for a job?” I hadn’t anticipated an extension of our conversation, but Jen possessed both charm and an engaging smile; I felt myself drawn in.
“Well,” as is my habit when thoughtful, I scratched at my stubbly chin, “are you a dentist?” She shook her head. “Are you a doctor?” I took up the next two minutes making my way through the list of obvious possibilities, “A vet? Or,” imagining this last suggestion might cast the net wider, “do you work with food?” But no, the expression on her face suggested not.
“Actually,” Jen said, in a confessional tone, “I use them in my day-to-day life. I suppose some people would call me a germaphobe. I wash my hands regularly doing the day and avoid contact with dirty surfaces – by which I mean, any surface. Including and most especially, human skin.”
“Oh.” I said, trying my best to steer my delivery of the word away from sounding judgemental, curving the pronounciation towards empathy. “I see.” At this Jen smiled and we exchanged introductions.
“Brinkinfield? That’s a funny name.” Jen apparently cared less for tact than I. She went on to describe how her behaviour had developed into an obsession. The critical turning point was triggered when she relocated to a small village just outside the city, but beyond a river. Linking the village to the city, a privately funded bridge had been built. To recoup the construction costs, a toll was in place. At one end, a booth had been erected, in which one or two men worked shift patterns, collecting the money from users of the bridge.
I am aware of this bridge and I have travelled back and forth over it many times. Protocol demands that having reached the booth, a coin is dropped into the palm of a waiting hand. This seemingly straightforward process can become complex, if for example, change is required. On occasion, I’ve witnessed people getting into a fluster, searching their car dashboard for loose change and the situation becoming confused. There is a certain degree of care and timing required, to achieve a smooth transaction.
“Well, we all know what men do with their right hands!” Jen looked into my eyes, accusingly. As a card carrying member of the twenty percent club, a left-hander, I wasn’t altogether sure what she meant. “I’m not touching a dirty hand under any circumstances, knowing what they’ve been doing with it. There’s at least a ‘top-three’ of disgusting things men do with their right hands, which invariably remain unwashed. In your natural habitat, you are such unhygienic creatures, aren’t you Brinkinfield? Aren’t you?”
“Well, I suppose I understand what you’re saying.” Silence enveloped a ten second void. “If I think about it too much, I get a bit anxious about bacteria.” I said, and easy example came to mind, “I don’t like pushing shop doors open using my hands, I either deploy my elbow, shoulder, or a mixture of the both. Sometimes, I wait around to see if I can make use of someone being kind, holding the door open for me as they come out and I enter.” Jenny smiled, as I continued, “And those card machines, where you have to tap in your personal identification number, using those dirty, greasy buttons.”
“How do you get around that?” Jen asked, her curiosity piqued.
“In the ‘old-days’, I’d wrap a paper tissue around my finger, but this wasn’t a perfect solution. I found accuracy with pressing the correct buttons, difficult. Thankfully, ‘contactless’ payment with cards is becoming more common. Nowadays, where this isn’t an option, I’m prepared. I carry around chopsticks with me, and use those.” At hearing this, Jen’s eyes widened. I slipped my hand into the inside pocket of my jacket and withdrew a pack of four chopsticks. I held them up, flapped them gently in the air, like I’d registered a bid at an auction.
“Amazing! And I’d love to see you in action with those chopsticks, but why not just use latex gloves?”
“How much are they, per box of fifty?” I enquired, scratching the stubble on my chin, again.