How do you write your shopping lists? On the back of an envelope, just a few key words to remind you of the most necessary ingredients; or on a sheet of paper with products listed in order of the aisles?
I have always enjoyed people-watching at the supermarket. Every Friday morning I see an elderly man at Coles, his walking stick in the trolley, always wearing a shirt and tie. He attaches a little wooden clipboard to the trolley handles. On it is a sheet of paper with a list typed out on a typewriter: red ink for the quantity and black ink for the product. Once he has collected his 2 X cartons of milk, he crosses it off his list with a biro. So precise. I doubt he ever forgets a key ingredient, such as the rice when you are making a curry... like I may have done last week.
And I have to admit to observing what other people put in their trolleys. You can make up a life story straight away based on brand choices alone. This game probably started during my teenage years working at the checkouts at Woolies but it’s still one way of making the boring weekly shop less monotonous. How can I not make up some romantic story when an attractive young man in a well-cut suit is buying olives, French cheese and stuffed peppers at the Deli counter while I wait for my sandwich ham to be sliced? Oh look, in his basket are strawberries, cream, fresh basil and tomatoes; is it a first date? Or maybe he is planning to propose? I wonder if he has the ring picked out...
So, I was pleased to bump into a passage about ‘trolley reading’ in a book by English chick-lit author Adele Parks a while ago. Turns out I’m not the only one; there are fictitious people who do it too!
In her book The Other Woman’s Shoes, two adult sisters do their grocery shop together. One sister, Eliza, is a free spirit living with her musician boyfriend while Martha has the perfect home, perfect marriage, perfect children... I’m sure you can see where all this is going to lead:
‘Eliza turned her attention to trolley-reading. That woman was bulimic: two apples, one carrot and a box of Milk Tray. This one was cooking dinner for a lover: salmon, a selection of florets on a microwave tray that cost an entire trust fund per pound, tubs of Häagen-Dazs. That couple was happy: mozzarella, tomatoes, avocados, fresh pasta and pesto sauce. That couple was waiting for payday: baked beans, sliced loaf, tinned fruit.’
‘... There were a number of low-fat, low-taste products for Martha. Eliza looked at Martha’s groceries and began to doubt her ability to read trolleys like books. Because Martha’s trolley said she was repressed and that she undervalued herself, which simply wasn’t true. Eliza knew Martha was a happily married woman with a fulfilled life. Martha was always saying as much.’
What’s on your list this week?!