Friday, 10 August 2018

Food shopping or how to become a grown-up

I remember, rather too well, one scar-tissue event in an otherwise very happy childhood. And I wonder whether I need to go through rebirthing. Otherwise I might always have an obsession about food-shopping!

I was about nine when mum asked me to go to our local post office - for an errand - in Villiers Square. It meant a short walk between playing fields and the crossing of one road until I got to a square consisting of shops, laundry/ dry cleaners, hairdressers and The Villiers Arms. But if I were to be ‘transported’ back into my deepest memories I might find reasons for my love-hate relationship with purchasing our daily bread ( and other comestibles). And this curious relationship with fodder may relate to this particular point in time down there in Villiers Square. None of us likes queues but, in soi-disant 'friendly' corner shops in particular, I often feel I’m going to do something foolish. The League of Gentlemen hinted at something like it with their ‘local shop for local people’ comedic phrase. So I’m not the only one who feels inadequate...
And maybe my discomfort is because of some of these early, indelible experiences.

I seem to remember that I was sent to buy potatoes from our PO. But surely that’s wrong? I wouldn’t be carrying such heavy items as potatoes as a child? Nevertheless images of five big, dusty sacks of potatoes - dwarfing me - have remained in my mind’s eye.

On that day, when I was nine, I panicked. I didn’t know what kind of potatoes I wanted - there were so many varieties - and I was ignored for so long - I was short and hardly reached the counter - I almost walked out. I felt foolish and upset.
Thereafter I used to avoid doing errands... Typical-avoidance-behaviour -leading-to-a-phobic-response my A level textbooks would say.

I had a similar experience one Sunday morning while staying at my aunts’ flat. It was a treat to stay over for the weekend and be picked up by dad who’d take me home for Sunday lunch. 

Before I went home aunties gave me some pocket money. At the sweet shop next door I waited to be served ‘Bluebird toffees’. There I was in yet another queue. There I was ignored yet again and the adults served first. 

At the counter I politely asked, I was well trained, for a ‘A quarter of bluebirds, please.’ At which point the shopkeeper laughed at me and said they didn’t come in a jar. I was nine and didn’t feel like getting the joke. Eventually he relented. He clearly thought he was a great tease. And had lost his vocation. 'Should have been on the stage, don't you know'. But I was merely a little girl asking for a small bag of toffees. I could have been scarred for life!

Every time I go to our local grocery store - a good 25 minute walk up and down a hill - I do something daft. It’s healthy exercise and it’s good to see the shops and familiar faces in the village square. But I must need therapy for my repetitive clumsy behaviour at the food counter.

When there’s a queue forming behind me I can’t find my money fast enough or I drop some change on the floor. Or I forget that for items less than £30 I can ‘go contactless’ and I always put my card on the wrong part of the reader and have to be told how to use it. ( At my age!) Or I put my basket on the wrong till. 

Or - like yesterday - I loaded a few items: apples, cat food etc, in my shopping bag only to find it full of water. I walked out of the store with my bag taking a pee. I sat down in the gutter outside ( a fine sight!) and tipped the water away into a drain.

My non-single use water bottle, aren’t I being plastic-aware?  has a useless screw top. It often leaks but I usually spot it before I find myself walking around with a bag in which goldfish could happily take a swim. 

Something always happens when I go in that shop...Refined and sophisticated, cool, calm and collected I am not.

One day I will go in there like a normal adult. Make my purchases. Pay promptly and walk out with some decorum. 

Maybe, though, it isn’t me. Is it the comments of certain servers that spark early food-shopping insecurities andmaybe it's them that need to alter? Is it my memory of being teased that makes me self conscious and flustered as I get to the till? Is it just food shopping that makes me behave like someone brought up in an institution like 'Lowood', deprived and isolated from warm, human contact, in Jane Eyre? If I’m buying a dress or shoes or a magazine - or best of all stationery items - I don’t regress to the little girl who couldn’t reach the counter. 

More likely it’s simply I hate queues and I get impatient ... and I’m good at avoiding doing errands. Just as I did when I was nine. Funny how I’ve often preferred the impersonality of a supermarket to corner shops. But not always. It depends on the person serving. Friend or foe.
I don’t think I’ll go for psychoanalysis just yet. Not until I’ve stabbed someone at the cash register.
‘Would m’lud take into account the defendant's early childhood experiences before passing sentence?’ 

Quarter of bluebirds anyone?

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