Sometime ago Sophie was very ill, and I became head cook, bottle washer, and shopper extraordinaire. It was then I developed this theory. I found shopping in a supermarket so difficult, controversial and aggressive that I had to find a reason and came to the conclusion that somewhere at the back of Tesco’s was a Nissan hut, decked out like two aisles of a supermarket, for classes run by a butch feminist, for those women who felt that men had no business in supermarkets. The course would teach them aggression, hindering ploys and subtlety. Once I had evolved the theory, it was clear it was well founded. I came to the conclusion that the women were divided into three gradings, young mothers fast on their feet with a high level of aggression, matronly ladies preferably with bulk, who could emulate both a bull elephant and a drawbridge. Finally, gentle little, slightly vague white-haired great grannies of great age.
The pears on our fruit counter are close to the top end of the aisle. I was stationed there trying to decide which pears to buy. I had one hand on the trolley which was upstream of me and close into the shelves, and in consequence my body was nearly facing the shelves. Suddenly round the corner at roughly 8 knots, came a young woman, with two children on her trolley as ballast, and hit my trolley squarely in the bows with the result the corner of the handle of mine buried itself in my rib-cage; .needless to say, no apology, just a stone-faced stare for having impeded her. At the other end of the fruit counter, where the bananas are, a lovely little old lady had quietly positioned herself and her trolley in such a way that all the bananas were all hers. She tentatively touched them, clearly looking for something that wasn’t there, took some out, examine them, and put them back, and this went on as people and me piled up on the aisle. I couldn’t help feeling she was so charmingly unaware, it must have been planned histrionics.
In the middle of the range there is a mixture of subtlety, delicate insouciance, .and outright aggression. .There is the Slitherer. She pushes her trolley slowly along, peering at the stock, then just as you are reaching for a product, she slithers backwards and bars the way with herself and her trolley. So you advance and you are just about able to reach when she slithers forward again. That must have taken some teaching, because not only am I 6 foot plus, 15 stone, also with a trolley, but I smell of aftershave. She must have been aware of me.
The drawbridge is a very clever technique. A robust lady will stand close to the shelving with a trolley and herself aligned. As you turn the corner of the aisle you subconsciously register that she is there and as you progress steadily up the aisle she is still there, but on approach she suddenly swings the trolley through 90? with its bow still firmly against the shelf while she stretches out across the aisle to collect something from the opposite shelf. This can take some time, so you gently give her trolley a touch with your trolley, just to show that you really do exist. You get a look which makes you amazed that you haven’t suddenly turned to a pillar of salt, and then the eyes go back to look for what she was trying to reach.
There is also the revetment .- the protection of the produce. This can take two forms, it can consist of two people adjacent with their trolleys in a row covering some 10 feet of shelving. They are discussing some highly important matter and if you try to excuse yourself, you might just as well be on another planet. The second version is when a relative of one or other of these ladies sees them she joins them from across the aisle swerving her trolley behind her. This is a clever ploy, it not only protects the immediate products from being tampered with, it can protect half an aisle.
There are many more ploys, and I expect local newspapers will present prizes for those people who can think up brighter and better ways of destroying a man’s shopping routine.