I have developed a technique; it’s brusque* and there is only one situation in which I’m comfortable executing it, but it is effective. It goes like this:
“Hand up, palm out in front of my face as if I’m about to say: “Talk to the hand, bitch!” I yell “NO!”
Now, I suggest that, before you read further, you practice this in front of a mirror – just to get the full impact of what it means.
Do you understand what it means? Good. Then I shall begin.
NO! NO! is what it means. And it is reserved solely for people who interrupt my lunch break. Not just any people, mind you; if someone at work came over to me on my lunch break and asked me something, I would swallow my irritation and answer with gusto; if someone on the street came up to me on my lunch break and asked for directions, I would happily send them packing in the wrong direction**; but if anyone approached me on my lunch break proffering a clipboard, or a religious leaflet, or a flyer, or a bloody collection tin, they would (and often do) most definitely get NO!-ed.
I attempted to shop today. I don’t often; I hate shopping in every regard – the heat, the lights, the smells, the endless racks of identical clothes, the continual stream of ignorant fucks, the soul-sapping ugliness of chain stores – but I wanted a nice, fluffy winter jumper and, although every sinew of my anatomy was screaming in protest at the thought of even going into Debenhams, let alone trying things on and queuing to pay, I decided I would just have a quick sweep of the ladieswear and then peg it back to my desk to read my book for half an hour. There was no sweeping. Pegging? Not a chance. Because en route to Debenhams, I was accosted a sum total of five times. That might not sound like a lot, but then consider that on the way back, trying to avoid the twats who had waylaid me on the way there, I was confronted six more times, and two of those times were by people who had accosted me originally. Re-accosting gits.
The first of these people was a homeless man*** who was sitting by a cash machine. Forgive me, for I have never been homeless and v.much hope that I will never be homeless, but cash machines don’t, have never will never, dispense change. So to ask a person who has just drawn a ten pound note out of a cash machine for coinage, as if by dint of the fact that they’ve just shown the colour of their money in one form will automatically mean that they have other money of a less foldy variety, seems ludicrous. Perhaps it is merely that people have their wallets out at this point, but I still resent being made to feel like a selfish bitch for taking my own money out of a cash machine and not giving it to the homeless when I’m on a lunch break from the job that consumes most of my life (thus preventing me from completing commissions faster), but which I must do to pay the bills. I sympathise if that man is truly homeless. But I am perpetually skint and the £32 I spent on a jumper should really have been spent on whittling down some more of my crippling debt, not on clothing me or feeding the needy. So I said: “No – sorry” and he said: “Have a nice day, love.” in a contemptuous tone that made me momentarily lose any shred of compassion. This man, I didn’t NO! because I had initially thought that it would be cruel, but in my moment of aversion, I fervently wished that I had done.
Accosting the first. Done.
The second of these people was also standing near the cash machine and as I passed she tried to force a flyer into my hand for which I had no use. Said flyer was for the Park Row Brasserie bar and was an advert for BOGOF cocktails. Even if the thought of flinging back two cosmos before going back to the office had appealed to me (and, to be honest, it really did attract me more than the thought of whatever merry hell Debenhams had to offer), I wouldn’t need the flyer to do so – the flyer would have been pointless – the flyer had no bearing on whether I could march into the Park Row Brasserie and order two piña coladas for the price of one – the flyer was merely alerting me to the fact. And I already knew that because I’ve been in that bar and tried to use the flyer as a voucher in the past and been told that I didn’t need it. And even if that hadn’t been the case, I would have managed to glean this information from the discarded flyers that littered the ground around this girl’s feet. I NO!-ed her. She looked a bit shocked, as did I fleetingly, as I realised, arm outstretching to show my palm, that I’d misjudged my distance from her and knew that it was too late to stop it. Luckily, I managed to not make contact, all was well and I grumped off over the road.
Accosting the second. Fini.
The third of these people was someone who seemed to think that a man I’ve never met, called Jesus, still loved me despite my sins. I thought that this was highly presumptuous on the part of both the accoster and this Jesus dude, but I managed to deter him with a well placed NO! and was on my way before he had recovered enough composure to start bellowing at everyone else who was walking past that Jesus passionately loved his flock… polygamy and bestiality are surely sins. No wonder he forgave me mine.
Accosting the third. Bosh.
Next up was a woman with a clip board, a bright red T-shirt and an irritatingly cheery voice who bounded up to me and asked me for money. I declined with a NO! But this time, I was thwarted and, as I walked off, the woman dashed around me to explain that I was mistaken and did want to give her some money after all. Why would I not? It was for a good cause. I bellowed a NO! again and walked away, but she did still insist on prancing after me for a good few metres and her shouts continued to accompany me almost to Debenhams’ glass doors.
Now, I didn’t always roar at the bearers of clipboards. I was never interested in what they had to say, and I was never going to donate to their cause because I am everlastingly brassic and because I donate to charities on a regular basis, but I used to try to explain. I used to say things like: “Oh, but I already give to charity every month” and they would say nonsensical things back like: “Well, that means you’re a nice person – you definitely want to donate to Save the Cows because we’re a similar charity to… what was it you donated to? Oh, yes – I mean, we’re just like the NSPCC, really, if you think about it.” I also tried the: “I really have no money – sorry” to which I often received the response: “But just £3 a month could buy a dyslexia victim five reams of yellow paper… You must be able to spare a measly £3.” Well, no, actually! Not on top of the £3 I give to the NSPCC (which is an organisation that thoroughly fucks me off, incidentally. I’m pretty sure the money I’ve given to the NSPCC over the years has been spent on free pens, cold calling, adverts that make me want to vomit at their triteness and clipboards), the £2 I give to the Brittle Bone Foundation, the £5 I give to CLIC Sargent and the monthly donations I make to whatever charity we’re touting in the office at any given moment. I’d stop those payments too, because I can’t really afford them, but you can’t cancel donations to charity… you just can’t, can you?
Accosting the fourth. Booyah!
Just before I reached the shiny doors of Debenhams, beyond which shimmered potions and lotions that seemed to promise me eternal life, happiness and exquisite beauty for a reasonable sum of my hard earned cash, a man stepped in front of me and whistled like a bird. I frowned at him and attempted to walk around him, but he once more stepped in front of me and whistled like a bird. I stopped and looked up at him with a slightly bemused look on my face (he was v.tall and I was wearing trainers and was thus rather shorter than he.) He wiggled his eyebrows. I harrumphed and was about to try to pass him a third time when he pulled something from his mouth and offered it to me. I looked up at him again, blankly.
“You make the noise, yes?” he said in the ever cheerful accent that is typical of all Nigerians.
“Um… no, no, I’m ok for the moment,” I said, coming over all what-ho. “But thank you v.much for the offer.”
Again, the man thrust his little whistle at me.
“Is wuan pund ant fifty pence,” he said, flashing me a winning smile.
“Yes, yes,” said I. “I’m sure it’s v.reasonable. But I’m not sure that I need one right now, thanks all the same.”
The Nigerian man smiled and wiggled his eyebrows again.
“For pretty girl like you, we make it wuan pund.”
“Oh,” I said, burning inside with discomfit. “That is most awfully kind of you. It is v.jolly, isn’t it? But I’m afraid I just want a jumper at the moment.”
The man, who was beginning to look a little downcast, perked right up.
“You want jomper?”
“I’ve seen one already,” I rushed. “It’s…” I started to move towards the shiny doors of false hope. “It’s in here. Thank you. I’m sure your jumpers are lovely. Thank you. Maybe next time. Thank you. Thank… thank you.”
I pushed passed him and threw myself into the heat of the department store.
Accosting the fifth. Meh. Next time, I will NO! anyone who whistles at me like a bird, but that scenario had never presented itself to me before and my eternal politeness kicked in before I’d had time to think. As an eternally polite person, I once listened to a couple of Jehovah’s witnesses who’d knocked on the door while I was at home recuperating after an operation. I stood, in agony due to nature of said operation, with a polite look on my face, bare-footed and frozen until eventually, I said:
“I say,” slight nervous cough. “It is awfully kind of you to try to save me and it’s been ever so interesting, but you see… well, would you mind if I went back inside now? It just that my feet are rather chilly and I’m pretty sure some of my stitches have come loose.”
So there I was in Debenhams, attempting to unwind from my bizarre bird-whistling experience under harsh electric lighting, jostled around by consumers and unable to breathe. I have always wondered what would happen if someone inadvertently lit up a fag on the ground floor in Debenhams. There appear to be many flammable things on the ground floor in Debenhams, you see. The air, for a start: I swear that the chemical formula for the atmosphere for your average Debenhams is H2O-C2H5OH. Then there are the assistants, who appear to be made of some form of plasticine, or perhaps wax; whatever their physical compound, I’m willing to bet that anything that shade of orange has to be highly combustible. Presumably, these aliens are employed specifically for the ground floor because they are the only creatures who can breathe the atmosphere for hours at a time. And let’s not forget the millions upon millions of sharply pungent perfumes, some of which clearly have a base scent of Sex Panther. No, Debenhams is a ticking time bomb of doom, if you ask me.
“Carrot?” asked an orange assistant with spectacularly messy black hair.
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked, trying not to breathe too deeply or stare too intensely at her matted locks.
“Diamonds Black Carat. The new fragrance by Armani,” she held up a bottle, which did look surprisingly like the Sex Panther bottle.
“Oh for God’s sake!” I bellowed, perhaps a little too loudly. “Can’t I just buy a sodding jumper without having to go through all this shit?!”
The girl jumped and moved away, confused, but not upset as far as I could see. Accosting the sixth.
Suffice it to say that I did not get a jumper in Debenhams. I went to the correct floor, I walked around it once, I walked around it twice trying to find the downwards-bearing escalator, I walked around a third time with panic beginning to set in and then I left, livid and rather frightened that I would never breathe the clean air of an inner city again. On the way back, I was accosted by another charity, this time a young man wearing blue; the same charity (same bloody girl); a leaflet giver who wouldn’t take NO! for an answer; a man who wanted me to join Leeds’ cheapest gym and who didn’t believe that I didn’t want to sign up even though I had run eight miles that morning, walked three, would walk another three and would finish the day with some ab’ work and circuit training; a Big Issue man dressed like some sort of zany clown; and the same homeless man, who had moved to a different cash machine.
I ordered a jumper online from the safety of my desk and lamented the moment when I decided that in-the-flesh-shopping sounded like a blast.
This sort of invasion of privacy has now become the norm, it would seem. So, my NO! and accompanying hand movement may seem rude, but is it really as rude as, say, someone trying to foist upon me some outdated religion when they know not a single thing about me? Is it as rude as someone insinuating that I have all the money in the world and have v.selfishly decided to keep it for myself? Is it as rude as someone whistling at me like a bird and then handing me something that they’ve just taken out of their mouth?
Too right, it isn’t. It ain’t rude enough! Maybe one day I’ll evolve to a more eloquent “GET FUCKED MOTHERFUCKER!” but that seems like an awful lot of syllables to waste on someone of such ilk.
* Downright rude, actually
** Not because I’m mean, but because I have absolutely no sense of direction.
*** Stand by for my tale of how I ran into a homeless man I see regularly when he was on a night out in town one weekend