FIONA LOONEY

KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s bril­liant col­umn, with her unique take on mod­ern Ire­land, only in the Ir­ish Daily Mail ev­ery Wed­nes­day.

Some­times, when I’m putting the gro­ceries on the con­veyor belt in Su­perquinn, I pre­tend I’m on Crack­er­jack. There was a game, back on that for­ma­tive Fri­day evening show, which in­volved plac­ing as many prizes as pos­si­ble on a see­saw in such a way that they wouldn’t fall off when that side of the see­saw was sent sky­wards. And, it’s prob­a­bly fair to say, I have made that a blue­print for my shop­ping life.

Which is not to say that it’s the only game in town. On other days, I play Nu­clear War, which is a game that con­sists of me putting the shop­ping on the belt in the or­der that we would con­sume it in the event of an apoc­a­lyp­tic disas­ter. Fresh food, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, goes on first, with frozen goods fol­low­ing, while pasta and tinned food wait their turn in the trol­ley.

All of which is only pos­si­ble be­cause in Su­perquinn, up un­til very re­cently, they packed your bags for you. When I used to shop in Dunnes, I lashed ev­ery­thing onto the con­veyor belt in a sweat and with­out a thought, know­ing that I would have to pack it all away on the far side be­fore the al­ready bored cashier moved on to the next cus­tomer. Gro­cery shop­ping in Dunnes was as stress­ful as cut­ting wires on a nu­clear bomb, so even­tu­ally I weighed up my bad hu­mour against the sav­ings and de­cided it wasn’t worth it. Su­perquinn might have cost a lit­tle more, but their sausages are lovely, they’re Ir­ish — and play­ing Crack­er­jack on Fri­day morn­ings al­ways set me up for the week­end.

But lately, things be­ing what things are, Su­perquinn has scaled back on the bag­pack­ing. The whole bullish ‘if we don’t pack your bags, we’ll give you a free house’ thing has been qui­etly shelved, and now your bags get packed only if there’s some­body avail­able to pack them. Which means that I don’t al­ways get to play Crack­er­jack or Nu­clear War and, in­creas­ingly, I’m won­der­ing if I can jus­tify the higher gro­cery bill with­out the pay-off of a per­ilous game on the con­veyor belt.

But last Fri­day, as it hap­pened, I had a bag­packer. I reckon he’s some­where in his 50s, this man, and he’s been pack­ing bags in my lo­cal Su­perquinn for as long as I’ve been go­ing there. But un­like most of the reg­u­lar pack­ers,

In my head I play Nu­clear War – I put gro­ceries on the belt in the or­der we’d use them in an apoc­a­lyp­tic disas­ter

this man has never spo­ken to me and never, ever, cracked a smile.

And I wouldn’t have blamed him, last Fri­day, be­cause I’m in bad form, hav­ing had to put the steak back be­cause it was too dear and hav­ing spot­ted that the Fairy two-for-one pro­mo­tion only saved me a sin­gle cent.

The young man on the till asks me — as he’s been trained to do — if I’ve found ev­ery­thing I wanted, and I start moan­ing at him about steak and Fairy Liq­uid and, thank­fully, be­cause he’s young and has a whole week­end ahead of him, he cheer­fully agrees with me with­out of­fer­ing any sniff of a so­lu­tion.

And even as I’m rant­ing, I can see that my re­doubtable bag-packer is chuck­ing ev­ery­thing in to­gether — bleach with ba­nanas, soap with sausages — and I re­alise that not only have I not played Crack­er­jack, but I’m now go­ing to have to sur­rep­ti­tiously re-pack all the bags be­fore I put them into the boot.

And then, for the first time ever, this des­per­ately se­ri­ous older man asks me a ques­tion. ‘Do you know Glenville?’ No smile, no pause in his chaotic pack­ing sys­tem. I don’t, I tell him — but it kind of doesn’t mat­ter be­cause he’s on a roll. ‘I’m in the golf there,’ he says, ‘on Tues­day. For the Spe­cial Olympics.’

And that’s why he’s pack­ing my stuff any which way, be­cause he has much, much more im­por­tant things to worry about. So I ask him a bit about the golf and how hard he’s been train­ing and how much of a fac­tor the weather is, and he tells me that even though he prefers to play his golf in the sun­shine, he’ll play in the rain if needs be, be­cause this is the Spe­cial Olympics and he’s made of stern stuff.

We pack my trol­ley with the hig­gledyp­ig­gledy bags, and as I leave, I thank him and wish him luck for Tues­day. He still doesn’t smile. But I do.

And I go home with my nu­clear-war sup­plies hope­lessly mixed up and a re­solve to stick with Su­perquinn for a lit­tle bit longer. Be­cause in spite of what ev­ery re­tailer on earth will tell you, some­times it isn’t all about the cus­tomer.

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