You know when you get a trolley with a dodgy wheel? The realisation sort of creeps up on you, doesn’t it? First you’re scrabbling for a pound (Is that one? No, it’s a franc or a token for the Belarus metro). Then it won’t fit in the slot unless you press down, applying your full body weight. Then you try to pull the trolley out but it’s stuck so you have to heave, bruising your own leg and that of the old lady behind you. Finally, having apologised to everyone in the queue including someone who might be your boss – you’re flushed and studying the ground at this point- and a librarian who you once shouted at, you limp away with your trolley and immediately veer off into a stack of paddling pools. You have a sudden urge to stab somebody.
This happened to me the other day. I finally managed, with great huffing and puffing and pumping of arms, to manoeuvre my trolley into the fruit and veg aisle. Gasping into the lettuces, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that cheered me immensely. I wasn’t the only one with a dodgy wheel. Two lads were having the same problem. Aged about 8 and 12, they had been consulting a list, all serious and responsible. Should we get a big one? No, she said a small one. They lifted lettuces, smelled herbs. Is this parsley? Dunno. Smells like grass to me. Oh look, it says…
Then the wheel jammed. The older one pushed a few times. Then they both leant on it before trying to turn it manually with their fingers. Finally the younger one put his foot on the bar and climbed up, leaning his body forwards while the other one pushed. The trolley whirled round. The boys let out a shout of pleasure. The trolley went faster, this time in a straight line. A few shoppers leapt out of the way. Others looked disapprovingly round, mainly at me since I was the nearest adult and possibly in charge. I, typically, was just fascinated at their absorption in this new game. As the list drifted, forgotten, to the floor, the boys began to play, pushing each other, calling, seeing if they could do wheelies. Of course it was only a matter of time before a supervisor, face like a spatula, came to break it up. He was not happy.
“Excuse me Madam!” I’m picking over carrots at this point and don’t realise he’s addressing me, “Ex-CUSE me Madam!”
“I’m afraid we can’t allow this sort of behaviour in fruit and veg…” He had glasses and a nasal voice. I looked down at a misshapen carrot I was about to reject and wondered if he meant that.
“It’s simply not safe,” he continued, “People could get hurt. Just saying…” He motioned towards the boys. A man in shorts was giving them a wide berth.
“They’re not mine,” I said, replacing the carrot. He appeared to ignore me.
“Well, it’s an issue of health and safety,” he said, “Just saying…”
“I understand!” I said more loudly, “But they’re nothing to do with me. I’m just doing my shopping!” He stared at me for a second as though he didn’t believe me.
“I don’t know them!” I repeated as forcefully as I could without actually appearing rude. He eyed me severely.
“Just saying,” he repeated enunciating each syllable as to a child. Then he spun on his heel and marched off.
When they saw the supervisor, the boys suddenly came to their senses. Shame-faced, they listened to him meekly, then slunk out of the store, leaving their unbought purchases for the staff to sort. They even left their list. I nearly ran after them, but I didn’t like to leave my trolley with its carefully chosen cache of fruit and vegetables. Despite its dodgy wheel, I felt unable to leave it. We were in a relationship now.
And the moral of this story is – when life gets stressful, maybe we should be more like children, and learn how to play…
So next time you go into a West London supermarket and see the backside of a “middle aged” woman, whisking past you and hooting loudly, pursued by a supervisor, well, it might be me.