Groucho had it about right: I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.

Except – the arguments were stacking up:
– I fuelled up at pretty much the same petrol station every other day
– I already used a reward card at the supermarket – and look at how much that saved every Christmas!
– It was one more card to carry, but hey? my wallet could stand it.

So I finally caved and said yes, okay, fine, I’ll be a member of the Shell’s Drivers’ Club, even though it made me scratchy to think of myself as part of a drivers’ club. What next? Lambskin gloves? A pine tree car deodorant? A SHOVEL IN THE BOOT?

I took the card.

But one thing I hadn’t reckoned with was That Woman Who Works There.

I’m sure she’s perfectly lovely, given the right kind of people. Except, TWWWT has made it perfectly clear, over the three or four years I’ve been stopping by her station, that access to The Right Kind of People would be a little more problematic for someone like me than simply saying Yes, I’ll be a member of the Shell Drivers’ Club and holding out my hand for a card.

Maybe I’m reading too much into a face. But it’s difficult when that face has the kind of brutally fixed expression that wouldn’t look out of place on a camp governor in Colditz. I can only be grateful she doesn’t have access to a uniform, because I’d probably faint clean away if she came stomping over from the bread aisle wearing shiny leather boots and a monocle. I’m a nervous wreck as it is, and I have to say, the bloody Shell Drivers’ club card was only making things worse.

I mean – it never, ever works. Not for me, anyway.

‘Don’t swipe it so hard’
‘You’re swiping it too quickly’
‘The other way! The other way!’

And then – inevitably: *The Sigh*

It’s *The Sigh* I find most distressing. And the fact that no matter how hard I try I still end up getting it only makes the experience worse. Because I know it’s coming. And though it’s probably true that a coward dies a thousand deaths and a brave man only one, it’s also probably true that the person who first said that never had to use their Shell Drivers’ card with TWWWT watching, and the thing not working, and then *The Sigh*

Because *The Sigh* means that the next terrible thing is about to happen.

You see, TWWWT is only about five five. It doesn’t bother me. I’m five seven. I know what it means to be compromised in the leg department. But crucially, for TWWWT it means that if the swipe card doesn’t work she’s not tall enough to reach over and do it from behind the counter. She’s forced to walk all the way round and come and do it herself. Which admittedly must be annoying for her. Hence *The Sigh*

And it is such a sigh, such an explosively expressive communication of her utter and abiding contempt, that I can’t help thinking I’m the only one this happens to. Certainly that’s the feeling I get from the look she gives me – how I imagine it feels to dunk your head in a vat of nitrogen.

*The Sigh*
‘Give it here…’

And then I make it worse by trying to say something to ease the pain.

For instance, yesterday I said: ‘It’s all in the wrist action!’ – which was meant to be a quote from an advert for a kid’s toy in the 70s. Battling Tops I think. Anyway, it sounded crude when I said it to TWWWT, which is why she frowned at me with such severity I think I actually whimpered.
‘Thanks!’ I managed, waving the card in the air and backing away, straight into a builder with a coffee and armful of doughnuts.

That night I checked my points online to see how I was doing. In all that time I’d accrued five pounds worth of credit. Five pounds! Exposing myself to the wrath of TWWWT for three years, for five pounds?.Hell – I’d pay twice that to avoid it! So I decided to toss the card and take the hit.

Today I filled up as usual and presented myself at the counter.
‘Pump number four’ I said, as breezily as I could, putting my debit card in the machine.
‘Take it out,’ she said. ‘I’m not ready.’
‘Oh. Sorry.’
She stabbed a few buttons – then paused, looked up and narrowed her eyes.
‘Where’s your Shell Drivers’ card?’
‘I … erm… I don’t want to use it,’ I said.
*The Sigh*
‘Pump Four…’ she said, heavily, as if it was typical of me to choose that one, and then stared out of the window as I tapped in my pin, like she was hoping to see someone else, someone better – anyone – a real driver, to come fill up at her pumps.


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