Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

Sanity is subjective. It depends very much on where you are. I know this because I spend half my time in south London and the other half in the country.

Talking to strangers in the supermarket is fine in Surrey, for instance. In Waitrose, Cobham everyone talks to you. The checkout lady there told me her innermost doubts about the nature of existence the other day, and I had only popped in for a romaine lettuce. She scanned the lettuce in five seconds and then, totally unprompted, spent ten minutes telling me how she sometimes wondered what it was all about. If you try to engage a stranger in an existential discussion in Waitrose, Balham you risk getting yourself committed to a psychiatric ward.

All I said to the nice-looking guy standing next to me in the bread aisle yesterday, for example, was, 'God, these blasted stupid names they give things annoy me. "Love Life". On a loaf of bread. What a cheek.

How dare Waitrose tell me to love life. It's my choice whether I love life, isn't it? And I'm not so sure I do. How on earth are you meant to love life when supermarkets put glib, self-satisfied, impertinent slogans on everything?'

At which point the nice-looking guy standing next to me in the bread aisle grabbed a loaf of white sliced, made a strange, strangled sound and ran away. If this had happened 40 minutes away in Surrey, he and I would still be talking, if not married, now.

Also, I'm fairly sure you can shout at your telly in Surrey without the authorities intervening. Not so in south London. The other night, I tried to remonstrate with my TV, which yet again put itself on to Smart Mode, which has nothing to do with being smart and is in fact a fancy term for a blank screen. The last two times this has happened I have had to call out Sky at a cost of £80 so that an adolescent, monosyllabic male can put it right by pressing one button (a button I'm sure I pressed a million times to no avail). So when the TV went on to Smart Mode again, I screamed, 'Oh, no! Please, don't do this!'

The puppy then ran into the room greatly excited, leapt on to the coffee table and knocked a glass of water flying. So I shouted, 'No, please! Not now! Please stop it!'

Five minutes later, there was a knock at the door, a torchlight shone around my living room and a male voice shouted, 'Open the door, madam. …

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