When netting a bargain is more than you bargained for

Wednesday is pensioners’ discount day at the local supermarket – but what will Fabien pick up?

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan writes a weekly diary about getting to grips with his new life in rural Tyrone

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Pensioners' discount day was like the mid-morning of the living dead

There is a locally owned small supermarket in the town that Fionnuala likes to frequent – as much for the sumptuous salad section as the principle – and I found myself there last Wednesday morning. There’s 15% discount for pensioners on Wednesdays and the place was chock-a-block.

It was the mid-morning of the living dead – all walking sticks and hollow eyes looking for bargains – and it struck me, not for the first time, that the elderly are a dying breed that are skint.

They have to eke out their last pennies, hoping they have enough to do. Wondering should they buy the extra-large Fairy Liquid as it’s on special offer, or will it turn out to be poor value if there’s still lots left after they’re gone.

Or are they really poor? The owners of mortgage-free, detached properties with who-knows-what stashed under the bed, tales of faux courtship of elderly widows abound.

As I rounded the Polish food aisle, I bumped into one such lady who yelped when she saw me.

“Fabien McQuillan!” She grabbed me by the hands. She had a surprisingly forceful grip and I recognised her face.

“Mrs Davison. Fine, and well you’re looking.”

She almost doubled over laughing and I saw kindness in her crinkled eyes.

“Thanks for the tea shop voucher.” I had helped mend her fence with Genghis the lunatic. “I had the loveliest lunch there last month.”

The laugh again, and she squeezed my hands so tight I almost yelped. I was wondering if she was going to let go when she peered in closely, a faint but attractive perfume on her neck. “Would you give me a hand with some compost bags to the car please, Fabien. They’re too heavy for a wee girl like me.”

After a lot of thank yous and you’re a darling and even a peck on the cheek, I was about to go to my car when it occurred to me that she would struggle with the compost at her house, so it was decided I would follow her home.

Any thoughts of a placid journey quickly vanished as she drove like Lewis Hamilton being chased by cops. I saw her determined face in her mirror at one point and admired her defying the world and all its assumptions: taking the racing line through corners; chucking a fag out the window; forcing a lorry driver to swerve and yell.

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She drove like Lewis Hamilton being chased by cops. I admired her defying the world and all its assumptions: taking the racing line through corners; chucking a fag out the window; forcing a lorry driver to swerve and yell (Alamy Stock Photo)

When we got to her house – next door to Genghis – I helped put the bags in the garden shed and she insisted I come in for a drink. “Orange juice, coffee, beer?”

“Beer?” I was smiling. “Do you know what time it is?”

“Time is a storm in which we are all lost, Fabien. Do you know who said that?” I admitted I didn’t. “William Carlos Williams. American poet. Do you read poetry?”

I told her I was an English teacher and she breathed deeply. “So was my late husband. Herbert and I would read poems together beside the fire with a Barolo wine. And then snuggle up on the bearskin rug.”

She exited abruptly and left me with this image, and as I looked around the room, I saw pictures of what surely was Herbert. Handsome and outdoorsy, I wondered had he shot the bear.

In that moment, Mrs Davison called out. “Fabien, darling, could you come down to the bedroom please? I need your big strong arms.”

I was genuinely shocked and hesitated for a second but she shouted out again. “Fabien? Are you still there?”

“Yes, sorry. Coming now.”

I walked slowly down the corridor, like a detective called to a murder scene. I peeked round the corner into the room, heart in my mouth, and there she was, standing with a double quilt cover and a quilt ready to go in it.

“Hold this. I always change the covers when I have an extra pair of hands in the house.”