UK – An Essay by George Rolph – The Politics Of Shopping

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The Politics Of Shopping


(A view From The Street)



The other day I went shopping for something in my local Co-Op. I wasn’t after anything elaborate, like a funeral, I just wanted a Pasty to stick in the microwave when I got home. Maybe some milk too and some toilet roll and, oh yes, I might get some Tea bags. Oh, and some sugar and maybe….


Well, you know how it goes. You pop out to buy one thing and come home in a taxi with ten bags of stuff you really don’t need which you have to consume in the dark because now you can’t afford to pay your electric bill. Anyway…..


I wandered around with a basket – no, not my ex girlfriend! I mean one of those ridiculous feminine, wiry things men feel really self conscious carrying about. O.K. Granted, that could still be a description of my ex, but its not. Trust me. This basket was not vindictive, nasty and savage indoors but sweet when it answered the summons of the doorbell. This was just an aid to carrying shopping about. So, there I was, with the basket slowly filling up as I walked about on a zig zag route through this warehouse of consumables. Not even trying to fight off the ennui that such outings always burden me with.


The Co-Op, at least in my town, is unique among supermarkets in that absolutely no effort is made at all to, a) inspire you with exciting ideas for meals or, b) do anything at all to make your shopping experience a pleasant one. Basically, what they have done is build a warehouse. Filled it with shelves. Stacked boring cheap stuff on the shelves. Fitted glaring white light emitting tubes in the ceiling and said, “Here’s the stuff we sell, get on with it.” The one concession they have made to the consumer actually having anything like a good time while in the place, is to have Co-Op radio (Don’t ask!) blaring out of the hidden speakers and playing horrendous music at you, as you hurry to get out of the place. The thing is, that about once a month this radio station will play a tune people actually like and when they do, it’s like winning £10 on the lottery. Not worth the £300 it cost to get but it still raises a smile and makes you feel lucky for no sane reason at all.


Thus it was on this day as I shopped in this hell hole. Co-Op radio was playing a succession of crappy pop songs of the kind that make you wish you could be stranded on a desert island with Simon Cowell while owning the only available razor sharp knife. Fortunately, in pre recorded Co-Op radio land, no one had noticed that Michael Jackson had popped his clogs, so we were not being treated to endless Jackson hits. Instead, some over excited woman DJ was burbling on about nothing sensible between songs and trying to encourage us all to feel grateful that the Co-Op had bothered to build this dump in the first place. She was failing. Only a famine could do that.


Having got all that I did not need and forgotten the Pasty I had originally come into the place for, I headed for the check out. Now, it must be said that I am not a master shopper. However, I do know the basics when packing a shopping bag. Put the squashy stuff on the top. Don’t buy a cake and then pile a dozen tins on top of it and expect it to look nice when you get it home. It won’t. It will look like Germain Greer’s face, with or without make up.


So, there I was, packing the bags as quickly as possible when the women at the check out, who I have known for twenty years, decided to launch a pre-emptive strike without warning (I knew there was a reason women should never be put in charge of nuclear weapons). It went like this:


Female Till Operator: “Hello George. You OK?”

Me: “Yes, fine thanks. How are you?”

Female Till Operator: “Yes. Fine. Can’t wait for ten-o-clock.” (Closing time)


Polite laughter.


Female Till Operator to entire queue: “Tsk! Look at him! Men have no idea how to pack a shopping bag, have they?”


Entire queue, made up of other women, smile in sympathetic understanding of her false and unjust accusation against me and nod their agreement.


I stop and look in the single bag. Heavy stuff at the bottom. Eggs on top of them. Bread on top of them. An entirely logical and sensible way to pack a plastic bag. Not too much weight so the bag will split. Nothing is wrong with the bag!


Me: “What’s wrong with the way I have packed the bag?”


Female Till Operator to entire queue: (Laughing now, in mocking way) “See what I mean? The poor thing has no idea, has he?”


I look up. I have never met any of the four women in the queue before in my life. Never even seen them before, yet, on the strength of this one unprovoked attack by a female till operator, that I thought was a friend, they have all joined in and this has become a conspiracy to subvert and emasculate a male shopper. ‘Well.’ I think to myself indignantly. ‘I am not having it!’


Me: (Insistently) “What, is wrong with the way I have packed this bag?”


Female Till Operator: “You should put the bread on the top, not under the heavy stuff.” She looks up at the queue of women again. “They just never learn, do they?”


I must have looked irritated because a big black security guard was inching closer; watching and listening intently. This had the potential to turn nasty. I mean, I had no idea who the women in the queue that were now all smirking at me were. For all I knew, one of them could be the Danish ambassadors wife or something. OK. I grant you that it was unlikely that the wife of a foreign diplomat would shop in my local dump of a Co-Op, let alone the Danish ambassadors wife, but it could happen. It was possible. Just. The last thing I wanted to do was to be at the centre of an international diplomatic row because some tart on a till needed someone to hate this evening. Even so, I had to stick up for the males in this world. I work for the Men’s movement for Riley’s sake! I could not just let this slide by. I took a deep breath to steady myself.


Me: (Deepened voice. Stern) “Hey!” She looked over at me from the till. “Look.” I opened the bag and let her peer inside at the bread sitting neatly on the top. Uncrushed. I turned the bag towards the women in the queue. “See?” I said. “The bread is on the top. Nothing wrong with it.” The women in the queue nodded in unison like a bunch of trained seals. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the security guard tense slightly as if ready to pounce. I turned towards him, caught his eye, winked and smiled in a friendly, non threatening way. He relaxed and smiled back.


Female Till Operator: (Looking back at the women in the queue) “Well, most men are idiots so you have to assume they all are.” She said. The women in the queue all nodded.


This sexism riled me. I could feel the blood roaring in my ears. My stomach was filling with adrenalin and testosterone. I felt relieved that I had left my bazooka and grenades at home or there could have been a bloodbath. Instead, I drew myself to my full height and entered a state of relaxed, super-cool, combat mode only real men understand. I was searching my brain for a suitable repost. That one crushing sentence that would show these women that not all men had turned into BBC reporters. Some of us still had balls. The security guard looked tense again. He could feel the crackling atmosphere building up and swirling about the shelves of shopping hell around us. I needed inspiration and it came to me like a bolt from the blue as I handed over the cash to pay the bill. I smiled.


Me: “You know,” I said to the entire queue, now lengthened by another woman I had never seen before. “there would be no war between the sexes if women only realised one thing….”


Would the women at the till or one of the queueing females take the bait? There was a moment of almost unbearable tension for me as I waited and that long second ticked by.


Female Till Operator: (Cocky. Self assured.) “Oh yeah.” She handed me my change before completing her sentence. “What’s that then?”


Me: (Confident. Powerful. Assured. Masterly. Devastating.) “The war between the sexes would end if you women understood that you are all mental. For that reason alone you cannot beat us men.”


I looked up at the queue. The slightly condescending smiles that had been aimed at me throughout this attack had all vanished. Apart from the confused woman who was a late comer to the battle, the rest all wore expressions of pure hatred. Narrowed eyes bored into mine. For a brief moment I felt a tinge of regret. A few innocent husbands were in for a rough time tonight because of my victory. However, there is collateral damage in every war. This tinge fled though when my eye caught the beaming and approving face of the security guard standing nearby. Everything about his expression seemed to be screaming at me that he wanted to personally pin a medal to my chest.


I picked up by bag of shopping from the tray and turned to leave. Victorious and bloated by my success. It was all I could do to stop myself punching the air and screaming, “YES! YOU GO BOY!


As I walked away a soft voice from the woman at the till called out to me.


“You forgot something.”


Me: (Slightly confused) “What? I have got my shopping and my change. What have I forgot?”


Female Till Operator: (To women in the queue) “See. They have no idea do they?”


Women in queue, even the one at the back: All nodding together and smiling a condescending smile at me as one. “No.”


Me: (Very confused) “What?”


Female Till Operator: “Your receipt, silly. You forgot your receipt!” She sighed as she handed it to me, as if I was the most stupid person she had ever met.


I walked past the security guard and he shook his head sadly before letting his face beam again with a wide smile. I stopped in front of him and he uttered one word in a thick, Nigerian accent.


“Nuts!” He said and he raised a hand. We slapped palms and I left the store. I was buzzing all the way home. Single handedly I had solved the reason for the battle of the sexes. It was male sanity against female madness. We could not lose, as long as we kept them away from the nuclear weapons and kept the Michael Jackson’s of this world out of sight.




George Rolph



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