A hundred years ago, when I was young, footloose and child-free, supermarket shopping was a fun and engaging opportunity. Casually browsing the ready-meal section for a Weight Watcher’s lasagne, clicking my kitten heels past the ogling youth on the fish counter, swinging my basket toward the delicatessen, and always open to the chance of a flirty encounter over the frozen veg. Tellingly, my choice of food provider has varied over the years in direct proportion to my disposible income; from Budgens, to Co-op, to Sainsbury’s, peaking at Waitrose with the occasional foray into M&S food halls, then back through Tesco, Scummerfield, Morrisons and Aldi. How the mighty have fallen.
Nowadays of course, all my shopping is done on-line, because the prospect of an actual trip to a supermarket is pure purgatory. On Sunday, however, there was no alternative. My lack of organisational ability meant there was so little food in the house I just couldn’t wait for an internet delivery slot, unless I wanted to explain to social services why my children were living off cat biscuits and margarine.
We headed off to the nearest Tesco, where I circled the car park like a famished shark, waiting for a politically correct parent & child space to come free. I tut-tutted at a city type pulling his 911 out of a prime position, only to catch a glimpse of a car seat, complete with child, crammed into the back seat. He smirked back at me in a “yes, I’m rich, and I have a family” kind of way, as I edged my battered bus into his spot. Why couldn’t he have been an obnoxious old man in a two seater? I’m simply desperate for the chance to air my well-rehearsed argument about parent & child spaces. Web forums and toddler groups the world over are full of stories about how you can never park in a family spot, for all the mean-spirited, able-bodied, childless individuals who callously slide into spaces they have no right to frequent. Me, I never see anyone there who doesn’t look as harassed as me. So you know they’ve got kids…
Once parked, I leave the children in the car (yes, I know, but seriously – what’s the alternative?)while I scour the trolley park for a twin trolley, slip the girls into the front and stand the toddler in the main section, peeking out between the babies like a juvenile gargoyle. Practical it may be, but on the icy tarmac I weave dangerously between the parked cars, forcing a BMW to excecute an impromptu emergency stop. “whoopsy!” I chirrup cheerfully, speeding into the entrance to be lost amongst the throng of Sunday shoppers.
Parenting mags are chockablock with top tips to ‘make shopping with your toddler fun!’, including bringing healthy snacks for them, providing a toy to occupy baby in the trolley seat, and preparing a picture board showing a photo of each item on your shopping list. Really? I have precisely one hundred and thirty six things to buy today; do you seriously think I have the time between tantrums to cut and paste a photograph of each one onto a photoboard? The woman who hesitated over whether she had time to have a wee this morning? I am never organised enough to remember my own snacks, and invariably end up ripping open a packet of un-paid-for biscuits with my teeth, to pacify the baying tribe. I do however remember a toy. That is, there is almost always one rattling around the boot of the car somewhere. It holds their attention for, oh, all of five minutes, before I’m forced to sing The Grand Old Duke of York up and down each aisle. (No, I don’t even see them staring, any more).
A few items down the shopping list my attention is halted by a nasal announcement coming over the tannoy; “ladies and gentleman, this is a customer announcement. Customers are reminded that for their own safety children are not permitted to ride in any part of the trolley other than the seats provided“. Oh fuck. Unbidden, the blush rises from my toes to my ears as I look at the floor and press on with my triple-laden trolley. We are hardly a sight to pass unnoticed; multi-packs of nappies protruding from the front, a twelve pack of condoms bouncing in the hold… Suddenly paranoid that every other shopper has spotted me as the Woman Flaunting Supermarket Rules, I make a swift left turn down Cat Food, then right again into Dry Snacks. Losing their gaze, I relax back into my list and am just picking up a packet of Ryvita when I come face to face with an embossed fleece and a crackling radio; “Teneesha, aisle seven, you’ve got ’em”. Picking up the pace I swerve round the startled security guard and into Wine, Beer and Spirits. Looking lovingly at my lost friends, I bypass their clinking shelves and back into Poultry, Pork and Beef cuts. Paying no heed to my carefully thought out list, I throw food stuffs haphazardly into the trolley whilst simultaneously chucking raisins into three opening mouths and listening to the repeated customer safety announcement; this time with an additional “we apologise for the inconvenience, but must remind you this is a health and safety issue”. As I near the end of the aisle I see the unmistakable silhouette of security hove into view. I do a three point turn worthy of an advanced driver, only to see his mirror image at the opposite end. Snookered. I draw myself up tall and prepare myself for battle; “of course I will take my toddler out of the trolley, just as soon as you show me where you keep your triple trolleys”…
Photo credit: Tony Newell