Tales of Ordinary Magic 4: "One day in the Co-op."

Somerset Meadows is a nice place to live. CJStone sees all sorts of interesting things through his window.

Columns from Kindred Spirit magazine.

This is what they call “sleight of hand.” One hand acts as a diversion, while the other gets on with the business of messing about with the cards
This is what they call “sleight of hand.” One hand acts as a diversion, while the other gets on with the business of messing about with the cards

Sleight of hand

I first caught sight of him in the second aisle in the Co-op where I‘d gone to get bread and milk. He was sort of shuffling about in his pyjamas, looking confused.

He was holding a tin of something and looking at it, studying the label. Then he sort of wandered to the front desk and back again, still holding the tin, eventually putting the tin back on the shelf.

I caught all of this out of the corner of my eye while I was grabbing my bread and milk from the shelves. I didn’t want to look directly at him. It seemed impolite somehow.

You don’t often see strangers in their pyjamas in the Co-op. Or anywhere else, come to that, except maybe in a hospital or a mental institution.

It’s funny how the brain can construct such huge, elaborate story-lines out of the flimsiest of material.

In my head he was some lost old guy so fragile and out-of-touch that he’d wandering in off the street in his pyjamas and then forgotten what he was in there for. He was obviously ill. Why else would he still be in his pyjamas?

And then I got to the counter and they were all dressed in pyjamas too.

“What’s with the pyjamas?” I said to the check-out woman as I handed her my bread and milk.

“It’s for charity,” she said.

“That’s a relief,” I said, laughing. “I was wondering what was going on there.”

“I know,” she said. “Someone just came up to me and said that there was some old feller messing about with the groceries.”

“That’s what I thought,” I said. “He was shuffling about looking confused to me. I thought he must have escaped from an institution.”

At which point she broke out into peals of laughter and called down the aisle to the person concerned.

“That’s three now,” she spluttered, holding up her fingers to indicate the on-going tally. “This one thought you was mental!”

By which time everyone in the shop was screaming with laughter.

It’s not often that a shopping trip can turn into a comedy routine.

But it got me thinking about the nature of reality. We do this all the time of course. We build stories on the basis of appearances, without ever really knowing what lies behind.

We are dupes to our own belief-systems and we construct appearances to fit in with them.

This is the process by which we build our world. The assumptions are all implanted in us at an early age. They are the assumptions given to us by our parents, by our school, by TV and the media. After that we shape our perceptions to reinforce those assumptions in a continuous feedback loop. If we see anything unusual, we alter it to fit in with our overall world-view.

The shop assistant wasn’t old. No older than me, in fact. I’d made him old because he was wearing pyjamas. And he wasn’t confused. He was aware of my reaction to him, and was observing me.

So it wasn’t only a comedy routine, it was a sociological experiment. That’s why he seemed to be lingering about. He was making observational notes in order to tell his wife that evening.

Stage magicians play upon this propensity of ours to confuse reality in order to construct their illusions. They set up diversions, making a grand display of gestures, while all the real work is going on quietly in the background.

This is what they call “sleight of hand.” One hand acts as a diversion, while the other gets on with the business of messing about with the cards.

Politicians and advertisers use the same method.

You wonder how many more of our in-built assumptions are false; how much more dynamic and alive our world might appear if some of the deadening influences of routine were removed?

Who says that the trees can’t sing, that the wind isn’t alive and that the sun isn’t beating down on us with its boundless intelligence? Or that shopping in the Co-op can’t always be a comedy routine?

It’s all a matter of perception.

“It’s toffs and tramps next week,” said the check-out woman, indicating the charity box for my donation.

Maybe the next time I walk into the Co-op I’ll be a little more aware.

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Comments 17 comments

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Brilliant! What a laugh - and all for a good cause! I love it.

Thanks for giving me a good laugh and something to think about as well.

Love and peace


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Cheers Tony, glad you liked it.

hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA

We assume the most statistically probable thing. We have to, otherwise our brains would go into a loop analyzing all the possibilities. It would have also been possible, though highly unlikely, that the old guy was actually a zombie possessed by alien creatures from outer space who were unaware of the fine points of our dressing conventions. Who'd a thunk it was jammie day at the co-op?

Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

I like this hub another good one

CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

No hot dorkage, you are right. He WAS a zombie possed by alien creatures from outer space. However, I don't agree they were unaware of the fine points of our dressing conventions. They had researched. They knew it was jim-jam day. That probably explains why he was shuffling about. Thanks for solving the riddle for me.

CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks Lgali.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

What tonymac04 said: Brilliant!  As always. This hub will certainly make us more aware as we go about, to look past what our brain *thinks* it sees. Case in point: our new prez has those trademark ears, but if he were to pull a ratty old hat over them, don raggedy clothes, and act dodgy at a DC convenience store, other customers would (naturally) assume he was a homeless person and steer clear of him. (If you're reading this, Mr. President, guess you'll have to figure out another disguise to mingle with the common people.  Sorry.) lol

Julie-Ann Amos profile image

Julie-Ann Amos 7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

What a great story! Tesco's dress up now and again but it's so half-hearted it really does nothing for their reputation. Having the odd disgruntled floppy elf or red-faced, middle-aged embarrassed lady wearing big ears and a wig stacking fruit & veg doesn't make my shop any more fun. Making them dress up under protest doesn't seem to work...

ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

It seems we are becoming increasingly disconnected from our surroundings. Perhaps it's a defensive response to the constant stream of propaganda and misinformation with which we are bombarded day in and out.

Making assumptions based upon insufficient data would be a fatal mistake for an herbivore grazing on the Serengeti. We live such insular lives that our level of awareness is badly compromised.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Chris

This made me smile. It reminded me of an elderly neighbour I once had in Brighton who really did shuffle down to the corner shop in his jim-jams on a regular basis. He also had a great fondness for bananas, and used to throw the skins out of the living room window, into our front garden! Eventually his family got him a place in a home, but I quite missed him really, a bit of colour is always good!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Very good hub Chris, and made me smile. Just wish more companies did these kinds of fancy dress days for charity, as everyone gains, the people fooled, and the recipients of the charitable donations, not to mention the laughs the participants have :)

Arava7 profile image

Arava7 7 years ago from Sunny Southern Cal

Very insightful. A treat.

De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

An accomplished, Hubber whom I greatly admire, pointed me to your site and coming here I realised that I had seen and admired your work before. Well done :-)

Enlydia Listener profile image

Enlydia Listener 4 years ago from trailer in the country

I loved this...of course you know assumption begins with "a.s.s." Wonderful and rated up.

CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. It's the fourth in a series and the only one that was never published. You can read them all by following the little green arrows at the bottom of the story.

Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Brilliant! Loved this piece of writing.

Indeed our entire lives are a matter of perception. We create our existence through our perception and attention. Our senses are limited though and thus, we only perceive some things of this world. Then, there are the ignorant types which don't even use their senses well and they know next to nothing about Life in general.

Ya, I prohibit myself from assuming that because someone decided to go for a walk in their pijama, they must have just escaped from the mental institute. I am of the opinion that looks are indeed deceiving and I myself play on that. Knowing that some people are terribly vain, I take advantage by playing-in with their assumptions until I chose to break the stereotype by doing something completely out of the character I which was attributed. It's fun! Or at least I think it is. I enjoy being underestimated too. Games, games, games ... Haha!

Thank You for putting this piece of writing together. Cheers!

P.S. The last story about your alien Bard friend was fun too. I love interesting people like that, especially ones which respect life and Nature.

CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Glad you like it Mr Happy. I've written other ones about perception too. Look out for "Reality is What you make it".

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