Rhodri Marsden: The electric current of social ineptitude still flows through me

Life on Marsden
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The Independent Online

While I was growing up in the 1970s, electrical appliances were sold without the plug you needed to get them working. It made no sense. It was like buying a bike and having to fit your own wheels, or going for marriage guidance counselling and having to bring your own tissues.

But that's the way it was and today's youth will surely react with the same shock and disbelief to tales of this appalling suffering as they did when they first heard about the scourge of smallpox or the concerts of Gary Glitter.

A side effect of this retail policy was that my father would cheerily ask the person at the checkout if they would throw in a plug for free. They'd always say no, so he'd ask again. "Oh, go on!" I started to find it embarrassing. In retrospect it seems totally reasonable, but at the age of six I was thinking: "Look, electrical items simply don't come with plugs. It's an anomalous hangover from our old BS546 AC power standard, so let's cut our losses and get out of here."

The upshot: I developed an allergy to exchanging superfluous banter with anyone selling me anything.

No such fear for my father; if anything, he's accelerated his enthusiasm.

"Ooh, is this all for me?" he'll ask a waiter as a large meal is plonked in front of him. The waiter will laugh and reassure him that it is, as I bury my face in my hands. I appreciate that the waiter and my father are normal and I'm the one who's socially inept, so I've been trying to do something about it by forcing myself to engage.

It's not been going well, though. I inadvertently ended up flirting with a cashier in Sainsbury's the other day, which would have been fine but he was a bloke in his mid-50s. Then last week I walked into my local shop to find nearly all the floorspace stacked high with 2-litre bottles of Coca-Cola; hundreds of them blocking the aisles, with hundreds more being loaded in by two blokes wearing high-visibility jackets. It was ridiculous – but it gave me an opportunity to emulate my dad.

"Hi!" I said to the shopkeeper, smiling. "So, I was wondering, do you sell Coca-Cola?" His brow furrowed as he delivered a one-word reply: "Yes." Deflated, I bought some mints and went home.