Old people. Soooo glass half empty, so me-me-me and hands off my triple lock pension. This is fast becoming a de facto description of elderly entitlement in contrast to the positivity and tolerance of young people facing today’s hardships. Well, maybe not so much in Margate, where I recently overheard the following conversations in quick succession.
Halfords Customer Services counter
A woman, early twenties, arrives just before me, dragging an e-scooter up the stairs. I stand behind her at the counter and wait.
‘I’m booked for 11,’ she tells the assistant, holding up her phone to show him the proof. He looks her up on his screen.
‘Yes. You're in for a free health check,’ he says cheerfully.
‘I’ve got a new wheel here needs putting on. Puncture,’ says the woman.
The assistant looks at the screen again. ‘I’m afraid you’ve only booked a free health check which is an overall safety assessment. A puncture needs a repair booking and isn’t free.’
The woman pouts and groans.
‘What, you can’t you do it as part of the check?’
‘Sorry, repairs have to be arranged separately and are chargeable. You didn't see this when you booked online?’ says the assistant.
The woman pouts again. She doesn't acknowledge the question.
‘But it will only take two minutes. You can’t spare two minutes?’ she says.
There’s a queue forming: four customers so far.
He shakes his head. ‘No, I’m sorry, it will take longer than two minutes as those wheels are small and tricky. And we’re fully booked’.
The woman sighs. ‘OK. When can you do it?’
The assistant looks at the screen again. He names a date which is nearly three weeks away.
‘What?’ says the woman. Her voice is whining now. ‘Can’t you do it while I wait?’
The assistant looks at the queue – two customers are accompanied by several children who are having a great time playing about with the display bikes and running up and down the aisles. A fifth customer is walking up to join the queue.
‘I’m afraid not. I’m not trained to do repairs,’ says the assistant.
The woman raises her voice a notch.
‘But I need it done.’
The assistant says nothing.
The woman glances at her phone. She’s exasperated. This is not how things were meant to go.
Then she declares: ‘I’ve got a bereavement!’.
The assistant sighs.
He offers to ask his service colleague if an earlier date might be possible and disappears into the back.
The woman calls someone on her mobile and complains about the situation.
When the assistant returns, he tells the woman they will do their best to repair the scooter by the end of the week. She accepts this and the assistant books her in.
As the woman leaves, she walks down the length of the queue without a word but then remembers something and turns to shout, ‘Don’t lose it, will you!’.
Half an hour later, I see her in another shop. She’s with a friend in the summer wear section, holding up a fuschia pink crop top against her chest in the mirror. She recognises me and there’s a moment in which we both exchange a look. Hers is defiant.
Morrisons Customer Services counter
A woman, late seventies, asks the assistant if she would mind calling for a mini-cab to take her home.
‘I don’t have one of those, can’t manage it with my old hands,’ she laughs, pointing to the store mobile and miming clumsiness.
She has a very small bag of shopping and is dressed in grey woollen layers. The shape of her short hair is wild, as if self-cut. She’s not too good on her feet and leans against the counter for stability. The assistant makes the call and advises the customer it will be about ten minutes.
‘Ooh, lovely,’ she says. ‘Thank you very much’.
When I leave the shop fifteen minutes later, two assistants are helping the woman walk slowly to the pick-up area.
‘Thank you,’ she says to them. ‘This is so nice of you.'
A middle-aged cab driver, licence swinging round his neck, approaches. He asks if she’d like the shopping in the boot or with her on the seat.
‘With me please, young man. No need for you to go to any trouble,’ she says.
The driver names the destination which is just two streets away.
‘Yes!’ says the woman, as if her bingo card is full.
She then puts her hand in her pocket and gives him some change.
‘That’s the fare, you take that,’ she beams, clearly having pre-counted the coins.
‘And when we get there,’ she adds, ‘I’ll give you 50p’.
As I walk past, I glimpse the woman’s expression: sheer delight at the luxury of the occasion and her ability to fund it.