Neurotic Supermarket Victims
You see them parade down the cereal aisle, the ongoing and retired, condemned to resent their hard-won success. With a stern, determined expression, they manoeuvre a cynical trolley and fill it with tempting consumer goods. Look, here is a neat array of packets; I shall discard the one at the front, and place in my trolley the one behind it. Look, here is a gallery of sliced meat in a pristine polythene portfolio, all arranged in date order. I shall carefully rummage through, moving them aside into a jumbled mess, so that I can take one that has the longest sell-by date. Yes, I’m going to have it for my tea this evening; but you can’t trust the supermarkets, can you? They only exist to rip you off, to sell a range of foods from multinational conglomerates instead of good old fashioned proper food. None of this foreign muck; I love to go to Spain with the missus, we can get egg and chips for breakfast and a doner kebab for tea.
Pity our Dawn can’t make it with us this year, but she lost her job. The manager accused her of stealing. Stealing! Cheeky bleeder – on his wage, he’s the one who should be accused of stealing. Anyway, she didn’t do it. Our Dawn isn’t that kind of girl, she was brought up properly. And anyway, stuff in a supermarket doesn’t actually belong to anyone until they’ve gone through the checkout and paid for it, so it doesn’t count as stealing. Not really.
Actually, I’m not sure about having ham salad for tea tonight; perhaps I’ll have something else. What else is there? I don’t know. I can’t think. I’ll have a tin of soup; proper food, that is. Here; I shall take this packet of cooked meat out of my trolley and abandon it here on a shelf next to some chocolate Bourbon biscuits. Never had chocolate Bourbon biscuits when I were a lad. Look at all these – choc chip and walnut cookies, red velvet cookies, golden crunch creams – it’s all gone mad. Never had mint flavoured Oreos when I were a lad. I remember proper supermarkets, the Co-Op, now that was a good old fashioned honest shop. You could get tinned peaches and evaporated milk. It was good enough for me; and it should be good enough for the modern kids. Kids, indeed; that’s all they are. They have mobile phone things, and they can watch mucky films on them, laughing about it with their friends; but then they carry on wearing jeans and trainers to go out in, like they were still teenagers. And none of them wears a tie these days. When I were a lad, you didn’t go out without a tie.
What sort of soup will I have? They all seem a bit pricey. Carrot and corraye-ander? What’s that, sounds like something you’d give a rabbit. Never had corraye-ander when I was a lad. What makes these youngsters think they’re so special, eh? If plain chicken soup was good enough for my parents, and it’s good enough for me, then why do they need to have all these different varieties?
Oh, that’s right, I need to get some toothpaste. Eh, where have they put the Colgate, then? There’s hundreds of different kinds – whitening, enamel defence, fresh breath, spearmint, peppermint, foaming antibacterial gel – but no Colgate. Hee, I’ve just remembered, I was walking past here last week and I suddenly decided that I didn’t fancy sausage casserole after all, so I took the sausages out of my trolley and put them back there, behind all the bottles of mouthwash where nobody would find them. I bet they wondered where that funny smell was coming from, eh, that were a laugh!
Our Dawn was on the phone last night, saying that her and her boyfriend have missed out on that house. Pity, really; it would be handy to have them just round the corner from me; we could go shopping together. Mind you, she can’t come in here any more, not after getting the sack. But still, I’m sure they’ll find somewhere. Mind you, she was in the hairdressers the other day having her nails done – always been proud of her appearance, has our Dawn, spends a fortune on makeup and nice things – and the girl doing her highlights said that her friend Sally had just got a new job in the estate agent’s down the road. Oh, that’s great, said Dawn. We must go out for a drink sometime, so they arrange to meet up in a wine bar – our Dawn’s very trendy, she likes to be seen at all the right venues, smart girl – and this Sally was ever so nice. After a few sherbets she let slip that the house round the corner has gone to a nice young couple, apparently they’re moving over here from Northampton. He’s a history teacher or something.
Chicken soup, yes, that’s what I’ll have. I might get something nice in for the weekend, maybe a bit of bacon. But then again, you can’t be too sure, can you? I mean, it might look okay in the packet, but somebody might have put it in their basket, and changed their mind, and left it at the checkout, and then the store just puts it back in the chilled cabinet and no-one’s any the wiser. No, I won’t have bacon – can’t be too careful. And you never know who’s been handling the stuff before it gets put on the shelf. No, we’ll just stick to good old chicken soup.
I posted that letter yesterday morning, so it might be there by now. Of course, I didn’t actually accuse anybody of anything – you can’t go round doing that sort of thing – but, well; don’t you think it’s a bit odd, moving all the way over here for work? And was there a report in the Northampton Gazette about a teacher who had been disciplined for collecting indecent images on his laptop computer? It’s a very serious matter to accuse people of doing something wrong, but all I did was ask the questions – and if it turns out that no such report ever appeared in the paper, well, there’s no harm done, is there?
Of course, when the girl in the hairdresser’s opens the letter, she will see that it was actually addressed to the Estate Agent, and will take it round to his office next door; but with any luck, she will glance through the contents and emit a horrified gasp before stuffing it back in the envelope with trembling hands. And, throughout the course of the day, the gossip in the salon will become less and less inhibited, and people will begin to speculate and the rumours will gather pace.
I’m not sure she likes chicken soup that much, our Dawn; when I went round to theirs she was doing lasagne and salad. And garlic bread! Oh god, I can’t abide the stuff. But she’s a smart girl, and I think it’s only right that I should do my little bit to help her. With any luck, I’ll be helping her to hang some wallpaper in a few weeks’ time…
Whitworth Galaxy, Part Three: April 2017
Since it was a lovely sunny day, I decided to go again to the Whitworth Gallery. Large chunks of Oxford Road are being dug up and repaired. Although it was warm, we didn’t have the hordes of students lounging on the grass in shorts and sunglasses; so I took photographs of the architecture instead.
Inside the gallery there were new exhibitions – from Deanna Petherbridge, a collection of large black-and-white drawings, vivid slabs of precise technical draughtsmanship, depicting stairways and pillars and military hardware and organ pipes. I was reminded of some pictures by the photographer Vincent Serbin, or of the imaginary ruins created on paper by John Soane, or the galvanised metal pipes left isolated after the closure of the Mason Coatings factory in Derby. If I had ventured into this gallery after a couple of glasses of Italian red, I think the pictures wold seem like windows overlooking a workshop full of dead machines.
Other delights at the Whitworth included the three-screen film called ‘Vertigo Sea’ by John Akomfrah, which gives simultaneous images of whale-hunting, Vietnamese Boat people and other marine dramas. The picture quality is stunning, but it is the soundtrack – surging waves, narrated texts – that makes the piece so compelling.
There was also a collection of etchings by Raimondi, working alongside Raphael, showing some erotic images and invented allegories. This legendary catalogue of sexual gymnastics is called I Modi.
And there was a collection of Warhol pictures, brought together from galleries around the world, including a large self-portrait and some abstract designs. I recall amny years ago that I was supposed to buy a ‘Secret Santa’ gift for one of my workmates, and had decided that a printed mug – with the Campbell’s Soup Tin design – would be absolutely perfect. Alas, I couldn’t track down one of these items, and she had to go without.
There has been much discussion lately about education in the UK, with the proposed return of widespread selection. Message boards on popular news websites have carried remarks about the worthless nature of modern degrees, and the disputed value of education. ‘Imagine turning up for a haircut and finding that the salon staff were having an argument about the merits of Harold Pinter or architecture in Prague’ said one correspondent.
But education is valuable – we are all surrounded by people who speak a different language in so many ways; we cannot learn the shared experience that allows groups of people to communicate effectively, but we can gain awareness and recognise the need to translate.