A friend once, just once mark you, criticised his wife for her lack of discipline when shopping. It was the time of the summer sales. I had warned him that telling a woman how to do almost anything was fraught with danger.
Suggesting she didn’t know how to shop was as risky as telling Mike Tyson that he didn’t know how to throw a punch.
But my friend maintained that if women shopped more efficiently they’d find time to learn some sort of useful sideline, like plumbing.
Inevitably, when his wife came home with a bottle of imported olives he told her that it was time she learnt that olives did not grow on trees – they cost serious money.
He said she should make a list of what she needed before going to the shops so that she would not be tempted to buy extraneous stuff. Whereupon his wife, as cool as the Free State in August, took out her credit card, cut it into small pieces, tossed them skywards and said: “Okay Smarty-pants, from now on you do the shopping!”
And so it was that my dumb friend found himself at the supermarket testing the spin on each trolley wheel and setting off for item number one on his list – bread.
Now supermarkets never have bread near the entrance because this would enable people to rush in, grab a loaf and rush out – the last thing supermarkets want people to do.
First my friend had to go past the sweets which, naturally, he ignored until he spotted red liquorice shoelaces. He hadn’t seen red liquorice shoelaces since his first childhood.
He bought a couple of metres and then saw “extra-strong” mints in the same old tube that he knew from his youth. He tossed three tubes into the trolley.
Then he caught sight of the savoury biscuits. The picture on the packet showed biscuits with mussels and shrimps on them.
He bought two big packets (for economy) and now needed to find mussels and shrimps.
This is when he saw the tins of imported crab meat.
At the delicatessen counter with its grand selection of cheeses he saw Emmental and called the assistant with the plastic gloves who asked how much he wanted. Holding thumb and forefinger far apart he said: “That much.”
She sliced it for him and then he saw genuine Gorgonzola and made the same sign.
At last he got to the bread and ticked it off his list. The bread was fresh and his stomach teeth began to grind. Fresh bread – must get butter. And strawberry jam. Or anchovy paste? Both!
The next item on his list was milk. Now supermarkets employ specially trained people to hide the milk so that shoppers have to run a gauntlet of products whose labels, designed by psychologists, cry: “Take me! I’m only R49.99!”
My friend, mesmerised by the store’s craftily selected music, colours and aromas – selected by highly paid psychologists – was helplessly dragged this way and that like a puppet on a string.
“Gosh,” he found himself saying, “a special on All Bran! And cheese cloth at only R9.99.”
And a special on spanners – only R89.99! And frozen prawns!
He was now pushing one trolley in front and pulling another behind and when he got to the checkout counter he thought they were joking.
As the checkout woman put his card through the card machine the store’s lights dimmed.
She intoned: “Card declined.”
It was then my friend realised why people have this compulsion to hurl supermarket trolleys into streams.
He had to put nearly everything back.
People in high office rarely respond to letters these days. They dish them out to some minion who has a signature like a squashed spider.
Years ago I wrote to the commissioner of police after I witnessed several policemen in the middle of Joburg sorting out some kind of trouble with protesters who, as they toyi-toyied along, were helping themselves to goods from the pavement stalls of their helpless brethren.