I worked on the tills at M&S to earn some money when I finished my PhD. It's a sort of matriarchy there, probably loosely based on the WI. It was great because if, for example, an old lady came by who had a lot of shopping and was struggling, you could call up a young man from the loading bay to help her carry things to the car park, thus gratifying two powerful human impulses: the desire to help people, and the desire to order people around. And on the whole the customers there are quite polite. We got a lot of elderly people in and the queue behind would wait patiently while they hunted through their change or wrote out cheques in tortuous longhand. I was putting one old lady's shopping through one time when she suddenly remembered that she had got the wrong sort of milk, because the grandchildren were coming to stay, and they liked full-fat not skimmed. So I called up a young man to sort out the milk situation, thinking she was rather an old dear, and then she handed me her credit card and the name on it was U. Dronke. Suddenly I realised that I had met her before: she was Professor Ursula Dronke, an extremely sharp scholar. I had recently heard her give a very good joint lecture with her husband, Professor Peter Dronke; they're one of those old-fashioned scholarly couples where both are very good but the wife is the scarier of the two, with a mind like the jaws of a bulldog.
Today I went into Pret to get lunch. There were quite a few late middle-aged couples in their anoraks there who had gone in to get a cup of tea out of the rain. Squeezing past to nab a Classic Tuna sandwich I suddenly realised that one of the men there was one of the most eminent Professors I know. For a moment I wondered if it was my conscience paying tricks on me, because he ought really to be in Chicago or New York, and I owe him a major piece of work, deadline end of June, which I need to polish off this afternoon and e-mail off. He was there with his equally eminent Professor spouse, who is very nice but rather frightening -- she used to be a nun. Really these people shouldn't be allowed to wander the streets startling us at the weekends. (And I ought to stop displacement-activitying and get on with the work I owe him.)