Legends from our own lunchtimes

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why I don't shop for groceries


When we were first married we lived in a poor inner city area heavily populated by a curious mix of (very) aged single females of Australian heritage, and widowed first generation migrants also well beyond retirement and whose children, being what would now be termed "upwardly mobile", had moved to newer prettier suburbs to raise their own children in environments which better reflected "their own" success, and to be truthful, to be a little removed from the strong ethnic cultural ties which had perhaps placed restrictions on them in their own youth.

At that time the grocery shops were still exactly that; shops with a grocer in a grey apron behind the counter. They were places where you could buy fruit and occasionally rabbits, from the front while in the shop the walls were lined full height with shelves of goods reaching to the ceiling. One or two of them even had rolling ladders to enable the grocer to reach cans from the tallest of top shelves. These ladders were marvellous feats of engineering, hanging on wheels from a rail well above door and window height.

There was a supermarket almost as we know it as well, one of the old-style ones called "Cash and Carry" with a thing called a "check out" counter and laid out very much in that new fangled self service mode, with shelves that didn't reach the ceiling with the intention that almost everyone could reach every thing.

Therein lay the beginning of my no love lost affair with supermarkets.

As I have already mentioned, most of the population was female and very aged. Perhaps "ancient" would be a much accurate description than aged even, and being born as they were at sometime in the nineteenth century, before nutrition had even been invented, and when available protein was at a level significantly less than those growing up midway through the twentieth century had experienced, it is fair to say they were to a lady, quite diminutive in stature. In fact it is equally fair to say that, having apparently shrunk somewhat with age, and combined with the stoop that each had seemingly acquired through reaching down to rest on their tiny walking sticks, as one was walking round the supermarket one had to be careful not to step on them.

The "Cash and Carry" as this supermarket was known, was the subject of what would later be called an Urban Legend as at least a quarter of it's shelves, although the legend said a third, were stocked with canned pet food which in itself was a relatively new commodity at the time, and it was said that this product was sold in great quantity because of its economy, to pensioners, who enjoyed in on toast, and "wogs" for whom it apparently was an essential ingredient in dishes lashed with olive oil and plenty of fresh breadfruit from their backyards.

The truth behind the legend was simple enough, these poor old customers had no man in a grey apron, and no ladder on wheels, so that any product on a shelf which was higher than about my waist, was out of reach to all but the most nimble of them.

The only thing the poor old dears could reach without assistance in the whole store, was the bottom third of the shelving, where the pet food was displayed, and of course this lead to a surprising boost in sales of that product, which in turn led to the store stocking it in greater quantity, further displacing product from the lower shelves. Not surprisingly this further boosted sales of pet food as by now the culinary options for an entire generation had become rather severely curtailed by the simple fact that all else was beyond its physical reach.

Being somewhat less challenged in the height department than anyone else in the suburb, I could easily reach the top shelf without standing on tip toes, and so it was easy for me to oblige when the odd request for assistance was made by a diminutive shopper.

The problem was there was never an "odd" request. I was asked to oblige about seven hundred times within a minute of entering the store. Even if my shopping list was tiny, I could rarely get out of the place before late in the following day.

From the moment I clacked my way through the wobbly chromed turnstile designed with the single intent of preventing an early escape, I was besieged by tiny old ladies waving their sticks. They'd come after me in swarms, like children following Santa Claus at a kindy Christmas Party, calling their demands, some more politely than others.

Sorry for them though I was, it was an inconvenience that in short order became something bordering on traumatic for me, and as time went by, and goodness knows, heaps of it did every time I found myself in that forsaken place, I got to the point where I could no longer walk through the door because there was a very real chance I would starve to death before finding an escape route to some semblance of a normal life.

After only a few errands, I found myself making any excuse not to be within hundreds of metres of the place.

Of course with the passage of time, that generation has been replaced by a newer, fitter, taller range of elderly customers, and cleverer forms of retail merchandising placing less reliance on the upper shelves, and sales of pet food have plummeted accordingly, but the impact of those times has left an indelible mark on my persona.

That is why, to this very day, I don't shop for groceries.


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3 comments

Shirl-the-girl said...

Am I really the only one who thinks that is a shameful excuse?

bitingmidge said...

I don't think so Shirl, there must be someone else out there who is cold and heartless! :-)

ab said...

yep - me:-)

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