The lad in the chemist was polite. He inclined his head and nodded with understanding, but clearly felt obliged to invoke the rule book. “Madam, you know you can buy them over the counter,” he remarked, motioning grandly towards the racks of pills and potions behind me.
“Well, yes I know,” I replied, “It’s just…my husband said that, in the past, when he’s been waiting for his batch to be renewed, you’ve given him a few days of his pills, you know, to tide him over. We’re going away you see, and I forgot to put in my repeat prescription request…” I tailed off, buried under the weight of his disapproval. Me a fifty-something woman in new pointy boots, and he young enough to be my son.
“Well!” He inclined his head again, but his expression was severe, “I will have to ask the chemist, of course.”
“Of course,” I murmured, expecting him to disappear into one of the doors at the side or back of the room. Instead of which, he reversed with alarming speed, precisely one step back and one step to the side, after which he said to a hair piece on the back counter, “Mrs Jenkins would like to know if she can have some antihistamine to tide her over?” The hair piece wobbled around a bit, then replied that she was afraid they could not oblige, as this medication was available over the counter.
“Hm, just as I thought!” replied the assistant, returning to eyeball me with satisfaction. “I’m afraid the chemist said we can’t oblige in this instance, Mrs Jenkins, as the medication is available over the counter.” His expression turned to regret.
“That’s fine!” I said, with a Cheshire cat smile, “Where is it?”
“Just behind you, Madam, in the section labelled ‘Antihistamines”
I love going to that chemist because there is a lot to be said for literalism. Who cares if your boss works precisely three feet from your left ear? She is in a separate department and may not be listening while she prints labels to go on other people’s prescriptions which say things like, “Not to be taken at bedtime” or “Swallow, after food, with water.” If she listened in to everything that goes on at the front counter, she might become distracted and print all kinds of drivel on those little brown bottles (“Not to be taken with water” or “Swallow with a bed, after food time”). It only takes one literalist…
I’ve been thinking about literalism lately, ever since my husband, chortling, drew my attention to the instructions on the back of the toilet roll pack.
I mean, really, who doesn’t know how to use toilet paper? And isn’t the number of sheets a rather personal thing? As for flushable wipes, well, don’t get me started on our local drainage problems. Suffice to say, flushable and wipes should never be put together in the same sentence.
It made me laugh though. What else could twenty-first century humans really do with instructions for?
How to get up –
- Open eyes slowly, to prevent temporary blindness
- Lift upper body from supine position
- Blow nose (this for people with sinus issues)
- Swing legs slowly over edge of bed, particularly if over 50
- Stand up and limp around, muttering, “Ooh, ah!” until limbered and ready for the day
How to stack a dishwasher –
- Open dishwasher
- Throw everything in as quickly as you can
- Look critically at “Not suitable for dishwasher” labels, mutter “Rubbish!” and throw those in too
- Go to the toilet while your partner re-stacks everything and presses ‘Play’
How to work –
- Get up, following the advice above (see How to get up)
- Go to work
- Enjoy the energy and creativity of your working environment, giving everything your best shot
- Try not to spill coffee on the keyboard
- Come home and lie in a dark room
* This may be most applicable to primary school teachers of a certain age
I wonder what God would put on his instructions for Life?
How to live –
- Be born
- Obey your parents and try not to judge them (being a parent hurts)
- Cultivate wonder
- Be as kind as you can, even to people you dislike
- Forgive people, to stop your heart crusting like a clam
- Believe there is goodness at the heart of the universe
- Don’t give up hope, ever
Oh, and never trust a man with a mini (or was that my mother?)
What other things could we do with instructions for?
7 thoughts on “In praise of literalism”
As a major anihismistine user this especially caught my attention, and also as someone who is beginning to ‘ooh and ahh’ too. Glad I’ve discovered your blog post at last 🙂
Well thank you! I could not cope without my antihistamine 🙂
You’ve reminded me of a night when my husband, a little worse for wear, announced with surprise, ‘I can’t sleep!’ ‘Try closing your eyes,’ was my grumpy (and literal) reply – how quickly it worked!.
But as for not trusting a man with a mini, I’m afraid I married one (although I think the mini had it in for me).
Tried to ‘like’ and comment on this post but the link isn’t working. Both buttons take me to your website but then it says that page can’t be found.
Sent from Mail for Windows 10
Yes, sorry. I sort of accidentally on purpose trashed it. Wasn’t well at the time! I’ve reinstated it now. Thanks a lot for reading and trying to like and comment!
Instructions on how to recognise sarcasm for literalists. Sue
Yes, good point Sue.
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