February 15, 2021
At the Checkout
By Isobel Duxfield (words) and Oliver Marr (artwork)
Today I’m working at the checkout
While ‘rona keeps my life in doubt.
This isn’t my usual Tuesday pew,
But employed, I’m one of the lucky few.
On the till I sit at the front row
For Boris Johnson’s COVID roadshow.
A year of pain and precarity
Greased by a decade of austerity.
Predatory men: the worst by a mile.
They saunter up in the aisle
Grossly ogling as they pass,
Two metre rule? He’ll still grab your arse
Like a sirloin steak at the buffet.
A virus won’t keep these pests away.
“Go on, g’is a smile love!”
With gritted teeth, I rise above.
Some just look to complain,
These are a real pain.
“Your baskets are horribly dirty!”
Everything seems to make them shirty.
Anger borne of uncertainty and fear,
Cut-off from those they once held dear.
But when our store is stretched to the max
Biting my tongue is quite a tax.
I kinda respect those who steal.
As the PM rescinds their free school meal,
When zero hours offer scant protection,
Can one condemn snatching confection?
I’ll eye them up on CCTV
Stuffing bags with eggs and broccoli,
Then out the store they quickly dash,
They know I’m not chasing petty cash.
So, I have little time for those who haggle,
Just for the fun of doing battle.
“Can I return this box of wine?”
No Ma’am, it was bought back in ‘99.
“15p per plastic, a price to incur!”
“Just the cost of the climate sir.”
Single use is their unalienable right
That they’ll defend like a Jacobite.
The others, determined not to queue,
Shoulder in right past you.
“Why won’t you let me in the door?
There’s only two assistants on the floor!”
Pushing to be first in line
Aware I can’t confront or fine.
Little sense of fellowship,
COVID won’t slow their shopping trip.
Waiting patiently behind the egoist
Are those who wrestle just to subsist.
Shackled to Universal Credit
Not knowing when– or if– they’ll geddit.
“Sorry sir, your card’s been declined,
Shall I try a second time?”
“No…um… it’s okay,
I’ll just do without bread today.”
Next in, addicts left high and (not so) dry.
Bereft of support used to rely.
For these, there is no stereotype:
Builder, banker, husband, wife.
At 8am they arrive,
Strongbow, rosé, they’ll take five.
I’ll serve them three more times today
They know their secret I won’t betray.
Our elderly just need a chat,
Confined to the house with only a cat.
Their home-help falling casualty
To Osborne’s last bid at frugality.
Then lockdown stopped any interaction,
Now they only shop for the distraction.
Every trip they weigh the risk of death
Against a crushing pain of loneliness.
Isobel Duxfield works for European sustainability forum, POLIS Network, and is a freelance journalist and “poet” (air quotes intended). She received her MA in Multi-Disciplinary Gender Studies from Cambridge University, and writes about environmental and human rights issues.
Oliver Marr was born in South Africa and recently received his MPhil in Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge. He is currently based in London working as an artist focusing on the relationship between nature and the built environment. He is also a freelance illustrator and has experience in sustainability consulting and the circular economy.