KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
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.