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Cowbridge Road 

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It would have to be Age Concern on Cowbridge Road, wouldn’t it? My favourite among all the charity shops in Cardiff.

 

‘You’re following me,’ she said.

 

‘No I’m not,’ I replied.

 

‘Yes you are,’ she said. 

‘I’m not,’ I insisted.

 

‘Then why‘ve you followed me into every shop I been in?’ she said.

 

‘I haven’t,’ I said.

 

‘Yes you have,’ she replied.

 

‘No I haven’t.’

 

‘Yes you have.’

 

‘All right, then... Coincidence,’ I replied.

 

‘Coincidence my arse,’ she said, ’you’re a pervert.’

 

‘No I’m not.’ 

 

‘Yes you are.’ 

 

‘I AM NOT A PERVERT,’ I shouted.

 

The whole shop went silent and looked at me. 

 

‘I’m not a pervert,’ I hissed urgently. ‘I’m just doing the rounds. Yesterday I did Oxfam and Tenovus on Whitchurch Road. Tomorrow I’ll do Kidney Research, PDSA and Save the Children on Albany Road. Today I’m here doing this one, then British Heart Foundation, Sue Ryder and Wales Air Ambulance. In that order - clockwise, as usual. It looks like you are too. In the nature of things, sometimes I appear to be following other people doing the same thing as me. It’s not deliberate. Today, you just happen to be ahead of me in the sequence. If I hadn’t stopped off at Gregg’s for a vegetable pasty I  might think that YOUwere following ME,’ I said.

 

‘I  never noticed no-one following me before,’ she said.

 

‘I’m not following you,’ I said.

 

‘Yes you are.’

 

‘Oh for Goodness’ sake. Look - only the other day I noticed a young girl doing exactly the same circuit as me, but a minute or two ahead. It did cross my mind to go counter-clockwise in case she thought I was following her, but she didn’t seem to notice. But then I suppose she wasn’t paranoid like you. Most people come to recognize the fact that numbers of us move in the same direction from one shop to another when we’re in the same locality, like a herd of browsing wildebeest. I’m surprised we don’t all know each other by now.’

‚Äč

‘I’m glad I don’t know you,’ she said.

 

‘The feeling’s mutual,’ I replied.

 

The whole shop had gone quiet, those present watching us as if taking sides. The old lady behind the counter was on the phone to someone.

 

‘Anyway, why would I want to follow you? You’re not exactly Gwyneth Paltrow, are you? ‘I said.

 

‘And you’re not Ben Affleck either’ she said.

 

‘No, indeed I’m not.  I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them in a place like this, though I thought I saw Imelda Marcos going through the shoes in Barnardo’s the other day,’ I replied.

 

‘You want bloody looking at,’ she said. Clearly, affable camaraderie was not going to work in this situation. I decided to change my tack.

 

‘You are lower class,’ I said.

 

‘I’m what?’ she replied.

 

‘And a crypto-fascist,’ I continued.

 

‘You cheeky bugger,’ she said.

 

Anticipating just such a response I prepared to administer the coup de grace before proceeding to the DVD section. However, I found myself forestalled in this. Instead of the slicing apercu I had in mind, I said

 

‘OWW!’, the unavoidable response to being kicked in the kneecap. 

 

Clutching the injured patella I hopped about on one leg like Long John Silver, trying to keep my balance and avoid careening into the tightly-packed racks of ladies clothing that surrounded me. I hoped that my tottering predicament would be sufficient to deter Rosa Klebb from another attack, this time possibly armed with the Breville toaster on the rack behind her which I hoped she wouldn’t spot. 

 

But just then the doorway darkened. Everyone turned. A Policeman entered, his massive frame filling the doorway. He stood for a moment, looking around. 

 

Then, no doubt attracted by my rhythmic bobbing up and down (I was the only person in the shop doing it), he began to pick his way slowly past the coat-hangers towards me. He stopped, looking me up and down, engulfing me in his shadow.

 

‘You again,’ he said.

 

Fin