Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

As I stood there, I was reminded of the man of no fixed abode who, several years back, aged 68, made it into the local paper charged with shoplifting. He'd failed to steal a bottle of champagne and a hat to the value of £75. In court, the magistrate had inquired as to the brand of champagne. On being told that it was Pol Roger, he jocularly commended the tramp on his refined taste, and said that it inclined him towards leniency. That gay tramp came to mind now, two days before Christmas, as I stood in front of the champagne section in the French hypermarket, tempted by the special festive offer of 25 per cent off a magnum of Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Reserve, a mid-range champagne that I prefer over some of the dearer ones, a saving of [euro]11 per item. I baulked at the idea of shoplifting, but there are times when the only possible response to being skint is an extravagant gesture, and I slid the two remaining magnums into my basket.

At the till I paid with my poor debit card, worn out and maimed by its extra-curricular cold-weather service as an extempore ice scraper, crossing my fingers after entering my pin number. And it wasn't until I stowed the shopping in the boot of the car that a vague notion occurred to me that I must have paid full price instead of the special-offer price.

I found the receipt. And it was thus. Fuming, I returned with it to the woman who had checked me out, easily recognisable by her spaghetti western peasant-extra face, and showed it to her. I had nothing to worry about, she said, directing me to the customer-service desk, where a languid and rather sullen teenage girl stood inside a sort of redoubt, besieged on three sides by shoppers flapping till receipts at her to attract her attention. I joined them and after about 20 minutes, she singled out my face -- from idle curiosity, presumably, or the fascination of the horrible -- and nodded brusquely. I smoothed out my till receipt on the counter, pointed to the itemised champagne magnums and managed to explain that I had bought them on the understanding that they were 25 per cent off. Before she could even begin to address my complaint, she said, I must bring the items in question to the counter.

So I flogged back outside to the car park and returned with the magnums, lined them up on the counter, and waited. …

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