Imagine for a moment that it's your 75th birthday. You get dressed, spring downstairs (sort of) and start opening your cards. There's probably an Amazon parcel from the kids, maybe a cheery email from your teenage grandson (actually sent by his mum because he was out rioting), and life is good. You have a chuckle, sip your tea, and never once does it enter your head to pat yourself on the back for having "made it this far". It's just another day at the office, so to speak, albeit one with a cake and a shedload of candles.
To almost anyone under 40 or so, it's as if pensioners are from a different planet - despite evidence to the contrary should you take the time to actually speak to one. It's not all Dame Vera Lynn and pre-decimalisation nostalgia. You can have whole conversations without the war cropping up even once.
Nowhere are we less in touch with - or less tolerant of - this silvery horde than at the supermarket checkout; if such great numbers of them didn't look so delicate, I'm convinced there would be violence - proper, horrible, call-the police violence. Because old folks, it has to be said, have a tendency to slow up the queue.
You should know that I hate queuing as much as the next man - more so, in fact: I've huffed out of shops where the lines are two people deep - but I do manage to button it when an elderly lady starts fiddling with her cheque book, or when some age-defying old boy plucks a stack of money-off coupons from the enormous purse that everyone of either sex seems to carry once they hit 70. Oh look, he's trying to find a voucher for that nice tin of cat food. And one for that four-pack of Stout. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Come on, old bean, find the damn things. This crowd could soon turn nasty.
Last weekend at the supermarket I was behind a shopper of particularly advancing years and unwittingly found myself noting the time between the scanner's last "bip" and the moment he actually paid. Seven minutes. Seven long minutes. It's not as if he was messing about or anything, it's just that everything tends to take a bit longer once you enter your twilight years. If it sounds like I'm being facetious, I'm not: I was rooting for him. I wasn't in a rush and I wasn't annoyed one bit.
What started as a low murmur in the queue behind me soon increased to open hostility. Two different people actually shouted, "Hurry up!", although, luckily, the grey-haired consumer seemed not to notice. But what if he had, though? What kind of a kick in the teeth would that have been? Adding to his ever-growing catalogue of woes which may well have included fingers that barely worked and a bladder that followed no one's rules but its own, he'd have felt the cold, mean impatience of his fellow man. Nobody wants that.
It comes as little surprise that one supermarket - in Finland, as it happens - is now trialling a "slow" queue, aimed at pensioners and anyone who might prefer a more leisurely pace at the till. I can't imagine who might fall into that latter category short of people who really enjoy the hypnotic stop-start of the conveyor belt, but I can at least grasp the logic behind the thinking that this kind of system might take some of the stress out of being elderly.
It's completely flawed, though. Utterly. And it's based on the incorrect assumption that OAPs are actually more than happy to stand in queues watching other slow pensioners load up their trolleys with all the speed of a slug. Having witnessed old folk in queues, it seems patently obvious that they don't like waiting one bit. Rather like kids, who think they can sneak to the front of any queue in the world just because they're little, old people often employ similar tactics, nudging their way in front of you with a sad smile that seems to say, "You wouldn't make me stand in this awful line, would you dear? Not with these ankles."
There's a little more to the Finnish scheme than just being somewhere for the elderly to not feel like an inconvenience - it was introduced, in part, to cater to mentally disabled youths who said in a survey that they'd prefer more time at the checkout - but I don't see queue segregation taking off worldwide any time soon. Whether you're eight, 28 or 80, queues, generally, suck. And never more so, I imagine, than when you're acutely aware that every minute on your feet is going to have to be paid for later on collapsed in a stiff-backed armchair (with matching pouffe) and a triple-helping of Deep Heat.
So give the old folk not one special queue but two, I say - and make them fast ones. Two lightning-quick queues you can only use if your bus pass is properly weathered, or if you're able to talk about The Beatles objectively because you bought the first album the day it was released and found it "a bit juvenile". There should be staff whose job it is to zip these ancient warriors through the checkout like their feet are on fire, knocking 20% off their bill in lieu of all those coupons and then saluting them on their way out.
With old folks out of the equation, that would leave the rest of us to load up with the utmost efficiency and get the hell out of there. We're going to need someone to get grumpy about, however, so smelly people, chip-and-pin ditherers and anyone who cracks open multipacks and takes single cans to the till: beware. You're next.