I trod on a woman's foot yesterday.

Not on purpose, you understand. She was in the queue at Focus DIY - the usual situation where they have five tills available but only one open. Lots of staff wandering around, keeping out of the way of the Sunday afternoon shoppers, but none prepared to do a stint at the sharp end. I know a couple of people who work there, and they both say that they spend most of their time trying to avoid the customers. Given my experience yesterday I can't say as how I blame them.

We were at the head of the queue, the Horse Doctor and I. We'd already had one argument with the assistant over a mispriced item, and now he was having difficulty finding out how much a roll of red electrical insulating tape should be. I probably should have noticed that its bar-code sticker had fallen off when I picked it off the shelf, but then they probably should have a better idea of their stock, and perhaps some basic staff training. Alas, Aberystwyth has only one temple to the religion of the amateur handyman, and Focus DIY is it. Otherwise I would go elsewhere. It's no great surprise I do most of my shopping online these days.

So the sales assistant trooped off to the electrical department to look for a price, even though the Horse Doctor could remember what it was, and told him, twice. This meant that there were now five tills, none of which were manned. The queue was growing longer, too, as it will tend to do at times like this. You could feel the tension rising. You couldn't? Oh. Well, I could.

Sadly, the sales assistant could only find multi-packs of electrical insulation tape in the electrical department. His immediate thought was that I had opened one up and taken the red out - not wanting to pay for black, blue and green and yellow tapes as well. Since the box with the single rolls of red tape was right next to the multi-packs, I thought this was a bit stupid of him. I'd also have expected him to have been able to look up the price on the computer screen on the till, or perhaps even just put it in as 'miscellaneous items - £2.85' and keep the customers moving along. But no, he had to find a barcode to scan. I guess a keen intellect is not high on the list of requirements for working the weekend shift in a DIY warehouse.

Aware that the queue was starting to snake down the aisles, I decided to speed things up by showing the sales assistant where I'd found the electrical insulation tape. This meant threading a path through a growing knot of people, each and every one of whom was at best a bit tetchy, at worst actively planning their revenge on me for holding up the queue. It being my fault, of course, as I was the one who'd chosen to buy something without a barcode on it.

I'm a polite chap, normally, so I said 'excuse me' as I tried to negotiate a path through the throng. Most people shuffled a bit to let me through, but one woman - her mind no doubt fully occupied with thoughts of evil deeds involving the creative use of electrical insulation tape - did not move at all. By the time I'd registered this, it was too late. My boot came down on her trainer.

There was no crunching of bones - I'm not that heavy really, and I realised pretty quickly what I'd done, shifted my weight to the other foot and said sorry. Still she snapped out of her reverie and said, unnecessarily loudly: "Ow! You trod on my foot."

I once again apologised, but she was having none of it. "You could have said excuse me, rather than just barging through," she added. She had that pinched expression on her face that is just looking for a fight. I've seen it in drunken women outside pubs at chucking out time, but there's something scary about it on someone so obviously sober.

Now, as I've said, I'm normally a very polite person. But there's something about the whole Sunday afternoon trip to the DIY store that irritates me. To be fair, any trip to the shops irritates me, but the Sunday afternoon DIY thing is a special hell. I'd done my best, and everyone else in the queue had managed to find enough room to let me past. All I'd done was very lightly tread on this woman's foot, and immediately apologised once I realised what I'd done. That should have been the end of it, but she would not let it go. Well, two can play at that game. I fixed her with my best steely glare - no lack of eye contact here.

"I did say 'excuse me'," I said. "And everyone else moved out of the way. I didn't mean to tread on your foot. I'm sorry. But if you'd just got out of the way like I asked instead of standing around like a great lemon, it wouldn't have happened."

That was the end of it, really. Her other half was too busy studying the floor and his fingernails to even think about intervening, and anyway I was both taller than him and sporting a fabulous bushy beard. The multi-tartan trousers might have given them pause for thought as well; you don't mess with a man wearing trousers like that. I walked away, pointed out the correct electrical tape to the slightly bemused sales assistant, paid for my purchases and left.

But it stuck with me, all the way home, how graceless she had been about the whole episode, and how that in turn had made me lose my temper. And yes, I consider that retort to be losing my temper. I don't do violent rage, hardly ever get angry. Mostly I become a bit tetchy and withdraw into myself when irked, although I will shout at the telly when I'm alone. Sometimes even when it's switched on. For me to deploy sarcasm and cheap insults in a public place means I have seriously lost control.

Something about this woman's refusal to accept my apology became itself an insult. I was angry at myself, too, for letting such a little thing get to me. The whole incident left me oddly shaken and it took a long time to stop playing it over and over in my mind. That I've been moved to bore you all about it just goes to show how much I was affected.

The obvious retort is, I suppose, that I should get out more. 


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