Sunday, 1 September 2013

This is a test

Recently I was in Boots at Kings Cross station, buying the usual items of bathroom tedium on my way home from work. A women appeared beside me (not by magic – I'm pretty sure she just walked there from a different part of the shop) to be served by the adjacent cashier.

She was buying a pregnancy test.

Just that. Just a test. Just laid down right there on the counter, all alone. Not a universally unflattering palette of eyeshadow, grabbed in haste, alongside it. Not some corn plasters and a blood-sugar monitor with which to bury it at the bottom of a wire basket. Just a pregnancy test. Imagine! She didn't even want a bag. 'Would you like a bag?' was what the assistant asked her. 'No thanks,' is exactly what she said in response.

It's a long time since I studied any critical theory. Probably it could never be long enough. But this episode made me think about Barthes' Mythologies and Saussure and signs and signifiers. Luckily I wasn't thinking these things out loud, because I am really over-sibilant.

Maybe I haven't done enough pregnancy tests in my life to reduce them simply to piss and plastic. Maybe I haven't witnessed enough other people buying them. Because when I saw this small box lying on the counter, I didn't think, 'Oh, the circle of life turns one more notch. Just another everyday, £7.99 incidence of life-changing potentiality. Nothing to see.'

Instead I thought that my fellow customer must surely have slept with her infertile partner's brother following an argument and now nothing would ever be the same again. Or that the one-night stand with her boss at the end of the staff orienteering/orientation day had not been packed away with the cagoules and the clipboards after all. Or that the night when that large flying vessel landed in her back garden and the hatch opened and that creature she could not comprehend took her inside and led her to do things she didn't entirely comprehend either, but on the other hand didn't not enjoy, really did happen after all, it wasn't just the late-night brie talking.

And when she got home, she would almost certainly hide it in the laundry basket because everyone knows that's a really flawless hiding place, or possibly throw the empty box in the bathroom bin, where her boyfriend might find it and wonder which one of the four female housemates it belonged to.

You say pregnancy test. I say soap opera.

I blame soap operas.

Because it wasn't just the test. She was buying the test in a train station. The theatre of melodrama. (Or maybe that's Old Trafford.) Where people run alongside moving carriages to tell another that they love them. Where the lovehorn hurdle barriers and feint their way around guards to beg someone not to leave. Trains pull out of platforms to reveal passengers still standing there, wondering what they haven't just done. Where businessmen decide not to take their regular service to the suburbs, but instead pick a platform, any platform, and step right onto a train to Berwick or St Austell. I mean, this literally happens all the time, doesn't it? I've seen it with these two eyes. Only on the telly, mind you, but still.

Back in Boots, the cashier swiped the woman's loyalty card and said 'Are you using your points?'

Initially, I thought she said, 'Are you proving a point?' which somehow seemed slightly prescriptive, even for a pharmacist.*

*Sorry.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

She is not alone. I bought my pregnancy test in a train station, and then did it in the train station toilet. And it was positive. Really. I didn't think it would be, otherwise I wouldn't have done it in the train station toilet. I was on my way to a night out, and at the very last minute, before I met everyone, just had a little inkling, and thought 'I'd better just do a test, just in case, before I drink anything', (and, yes, I was trying for a baby at the time). But then I just spent the whole night in a sort of surreal state, desperate to get home and tell my husband that I was pregnant! Every time I go to Leeds station, which is a lot (you and I met there recently to give you a clue as to who I am!), I think of it. Not to be recommended (doing a pregnancy test in a train station, not meeting you in a train station, obviously). x

Miss Jones said...

Meeting me in a train station is to be positively encouraged, I would say! Thanks for sharing. xxxxx

Muddling Along said...

I think I love you just a bit more for this

Having spent rather too many years wasting countless pounds on tests I could easily have been that woman - that said I don't remember looking around and seeing someone trying to work out if I was sleeping with my boss or had just come out of a coma with some strange symptoms when I bought the last one... hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten you were blogging again and was just randomly checking in to see if there was any build up to Strictly on here and fell upon this! Hilarious. I too met you recently in Leeds Station (to give you some clue of my identity). My pregnancy test tale is slightly more convoluted though. I used to have to take them to get my periods (a long story), so just used to throw them thoughtlessly in with the groceries on a monthly shop (no drama you see!). I was doing my shopping in Germany this particular time of month and threw one in. I did it when I got home just before guests arrived for dinner, but it was one of these high tech ones with no blue line or cross. It came up in writing "schwanger". I don't speak a word of German so didn't think much of it - they were always negative every month. Then looked it up out of curiosity when my guests had left and had quite a surprise ;-) Had to do a French one the following day to check there wasn't a translation error! The rest is history x

Robin said...

Once when I was working as a barmaid, a customer came in and ordered a pint of lager at 11.30 in the morning. He finished his one pint and left, leaving behind a shopping bag from Boots. Inside were a box of Anadin and the morning-after pill. I can only imagine the trouble he must have been in when he got home.

Miss Jones said...

Hahaha. Brilliant. Pure soap opera.

Ian said...

I suppose she just needed to be Saussure

Miss Jones said...

*APPLAUSE*.