There’s a trusted expression: “Fail to prepare – prepare to fail”: if you don’t research, plan or prepare sufficiently in advance, you risk failure and, in my case, you risk a considerable amount of unnecessary, last minute, stress…

I had been preparing for an event and had promised to bring Sharpie pens and a store voucher as a prize for the quiz and, thinking everything was ready, I’d casually left these final details to the last minute. With little time to spare, I called in at the shops on the way to the venue and wandered over to the stationery store that I was relying on for both the pens and voucher, but this is where my troubles began.

Even before I got through the door, I could hear raised voices and a customer clearly not happy about something. Not trying to get involved, I slipped past a small crowd which had gathered around the woman and overheard the cashier profusely apologising and trying to appease the situation. I picked up the pens and a voucher, then turned to the tills only to be greeted by even more distraught faces, two cashiers and the store manager with her hand to the phone: the tills had broken, the store was having to close and we would all need to leave immediately. What?!

There aren’t too many places that you can buy Sharpies or this particular store card, locally, and I’m not the sort of person to walk away if there’s a workaround to be had, but not even being allowed to leave cash, I had to reluctantly turn and go.

Outside, the array of local shops seemed suddenly all wrong! I didn’t need a cappuccino, a cashpoint or mascara. I wasn’t after fruit and veg or a new carpet. Like a search beacon, I scanned the local precinct and high street in my head for anywhere that might sell my pens and voucher; already starting to regret innocently promising others that they’d be at the event.

I jogged across to the card shop, picked up pace as I had to then get back to ask in the newsagent and by now was starting to panic. In the local bargain shop, I reluctantly substituted the pens I’d planned for a multi-pack of felt-tips hoping that no-one would mind using lilac or pale salmon ink on their name badges! It wasn’t what I’d intended, but it would have to do and a short queue later, thankfully, I could resume my hunt for the critical voucher.

A quick glance in the nearest supermarket failed to resolve the problem, but a kind assistant did suggest that I try the local chemist. Are you sure? I thought dismissively, but I couldn’t think of a realistic alternative within 10 miles and time was running out. “They’re on the right of the till” she called after me as I thanked her and literally ran out of the store like a shoplifter!

Across at the chemist, I rushed to the right of the tills as instructed. Nothing! Aaargh! Medicines, bottles and creams, but not the voucher for the particular store that I had promised would be at the event. With a mixture of emotions and a lot of puffing and panting by now, I turned to leave being stopped short only by “Can I help you?” from a concerned assistant no doubt seeing my face as an indication that I needed to be prioritised. “It’s okay” I said turning to go, “I was just looking for a particular store voucher”. “Yes, Madam,” she said, “They’re behind you…”.

Turning on my heels to see the promised rack of vouchers, I could have hugged her! Having given up all hope, I was now facing a sea of coloured cards and searching desperately for the elusive one that I needed. Even before I had realised it wasn’t on the rack, the helpful assistant had spotted the gap and was off to look elsewhere in the store. “It must be for a specific amount” I called hopefully after her, still wondering if I could drive ten miles to another named shop in the remaining time I had left.

“It’s here” a voice called out across the aisles. Not sure if that was the same assistant or even aimed at me, I was still trying to calculate the time it would take to detour ten miles, in the wrong direction for the event, in order to get the voucher elsewhere. Watching her return to the rack was like the end of a game show when they make you wait to announce the winner, but triumphantly this amazing lady arrived back with not one, but two of the prized vouchers! I could have hugged here again! Leaving the shop, I felt like I’d found my golden ticket in a bar of chocolate. Needless to say, I ran back to the car, got to the event hot and bothered, but in time and with my promised items; well, sort of. However, I would not recommend this experience and will definitely not be leaving any plans to the last minute again, no matter how trivial they might seem.

There’s a p.s. to this tale and that is that the promised store card was actually on a rack at another supermarket less than a mile away. In my increasingly blind panic I couldn’t see the wood for trees and had completely overlooked this fact. Logic had become replaced by desperation and I was not thinking rationally. It all came good in the end; there were enough dark coloured felt-tips in the multi-pack to make the name badges look professional and the voucher was won as intended.

Like any good swan gliding gracefully on the lake, there was a good deal of peddling going on under the surface, just far more than was necessary. There are things that life throws at us unexpectedly, such as tills breaking down and stores closing at a critical moment, but being prepared in advance means that these ‘curve balls’ have less impact and success comes with less peddling and definitely less stress.

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