The Squat Pen: Any fuel with your broken biscuits, Sir?

Knowing who is a local and who is not is of paramount importance to the blow-in. Getting it wrong can be a fatal mistake.

There is a large garage and grocery store on the main road towards town. The parking’s great and it even has a little place for tying up Eric, with a water bowl.

The ‘reduced’ shelves are always plump and there are further reductions at around seven in the evening.

“Is that food in date?” Fionnuala asks, glancing at my shopping bag.

“Perfectly so.”

“Just make sure me or none of the children get diarrhoea. And I don’t know what you’re laughing at.”

Give my family diarrhoea. Was never on the horizon when I was at St Mary’s teacher training college on the Falls. Those were craic-filled, dreamy, couldn’t-care-less days.

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And so, I found myself at the till last week when a staff member approached me.

“Hi there,” she said, a small, brown-haired woman with a ruddy complexion. I think. I didn’t even register what she looked like; I was too occupied by what she was saying.

“I’ve been looking out for you for the past couple of days. You drive a white Nissan Pulsar, yeah?”

I could barely remember.

“Yeah?” she repeated, her face smiling but a bit over-bright.

“You got diesel last Thursday and drove off without paying. I’m not saying you meant to or anything. Yeah?”

She stood there looking up at me. I was smiling too. “Diesel?” 

“Yeah?” I was beginning to get a bit self-conscious. There were a few rubberneckers pretending to be looking at shelves and my mind was desperately trying to piece together last Thursday.

“I wouldn’t mind but it was £63. You be in here all the time. I know you.” I was waiting for her to say “yeah?” but she just stood there, a rictus grin and hands on hips.

I was a customer. A really good customer. Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend...

“Can we step over here please,” I said, with a supercilious wink.

“First of all, I didn’t drive off without paying. I didn’t get diesel here on Thursday last week. I got a fill in town on Wednesday, not that I have to justify myself.” “Oh no, we have it on camera. A white Nissan Pulsar.”

I was thinking could it have been Fionnuala? She has her own car but would take mine if necessary.

“It may have been my wife? Though that’s highly unlikely.”

“No. It was a man, with lanky hair and glasses. I have it on the camera. You can see you.” “You can see me?”

“Yeah. You can see you walking back out of the shop. You can see your hair clearly.”

I was wondering if I was hallucinating. Then or now. I didn’t get diesel, and then this person talking about my hair at the top of her voice.

“I wasn’t here on Thursday.”

“You were. It’s on camera.”

“I know. You keep saying that. Can I see it?”

“No. No one’s allowed to see that. Only management. And the police.”

I felt a sphincter tighten somewhere. I grew up in Belfast. No one threatened the police on us.

“And you expect me to hand over £63 just like that? Have you the reg of the car on camera?”

“Yeah.” She checked a crumpled piece of paper. “EY14 DGB.” 

I burst out laughing, cascading on the relief that I was not mad, and told her that my car was SKZ 7133. I swaggered out, vindicated, but couldn’t resist a jibe.

“I must have a look-a-likey! You must think I’m some fool.”

I relayed the exchange to Fionnuala as she was scoffing her pork stir-fry at the kitchen table. “She’s one of the McCools. Massive family. I hope you weren’t cheeky to her Fabien?”

Incredulous. “She was the cheeky one. I was restrained and polite.”

Fionnuala stopped eating and locked eyes with me. “Good. Because her brothers are all big hard men.”

Still indignant. But might be giving the reduced section a miss the next few days...