In a (downmarket) supermarket the other day I overheard a comment which shamed me.
It shamed me because I have the luxury of being a person of extremes when it comes to shopping for food. Now and again, anyway.
Most of the time I shop in two or three small shops – bakeries, greengrocers, a farm shop – and two or three supermarkets towards the lower end of the Great British Class Scale (GBCS).
Occasionally, though, I want to feel glossy and poised and assured.
To swing my basket as I stroll past royal organic meat, expensive flowers and the latest variant on bread.
To mingle with the rich. The ones who’ve left their Porsche 4x4s straddling the lines of the too-small bays in the car park.
I want a respite from the everyday, ‘grrr, shopping for food again,’ state.
But, when I do go somewhere at the top end of the GBCS, I’m often disappointed or angry when I leave.
Disappointed because they don’t have what it takes to improve my day (it’s a tough call, I know).
Angry at the unnecessary, enticing, ridiculous things they sell. Like ordinary food made newly-bizarre by celebrity chefs.
I leave, often having bought nothing, in a fit of pique at such fripperies of foodliness.
And when I’m in the other, ordinary places, I find myself wanting to wiggle my nose – like Samantha in ‘Bewitched’ – to magic our Top Men here, for Instructive Shopping Therapy.
By Top Men I mean Top Politicians. The one who’s head boy of the government (not the Queen, obvs, she’s head of state and not a boy) and, perhaps more important, the one who looks after the national housekeeping money – the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Our Chancellor presumably knows a lot about wallpaper, including the price, given his family firm makes it. But let’s set aside the £158 a roll stuff and concentrate on pizza.
I wonder if George Osborne knows how much a pizza costs? I mean a real, shop-bought one, not an ordered-and-delivered-in-central-London one.
That comment I heard, at the check-out, it was a man, to his wife.
‘Their own brand pizza’s down from £2.50 to £2.41, can we afford one?’
Wife counts money. They decide not.
At this point, in Dickens, a philanthropist might pass by, drop a pizza or six in their trolley as they left the building. And, no, I didn’t. I did drop a tin of biscuits in the Salvation Army Christmas presents trolley, next to the wheelchairs, though. It was building up a steady layer of soft toys and baby clothes.
I spend a lot of time grr-shopping, here.
It’s a multi-cultural place – and I don’t mean that it’s awash with nationalities, though I do hear Polish, German, Spanish and Italian as I shop.
I mean that it’s a community, of sorts.
A place where inhabitants of residential homes can have a trip out with their carers.
Where a member of staff can chat with an older woman as he stocks the shelves – about the books they’re reading this week.
Where an elderly man with memory problems always goes to the same – very thin, heavily tattooed – check-out woman. He has to come back and ask if he has paid – and she always sets his mind at rest. She has no time for me, for my persimmons and my own-brand claret – but that’s fine. I don’t need her time. Not yet.
I see people sick and disadvantaged, people healthy and privileged.
I see rich, middling and poor. And once-rich, but now poor.
I see pale, tired, women working on the tills – and notice the odd black eye.
I see troubled people being nice to untroubled. I see poor people being nice to rich.
I see those who have and those who have not.
I see drunks. I see anger. I see bad behaviour.
I see life.
Top Men should see this but we know they never will. And it will never seem real, if they can’t see it. Or live it.
Which is why they’ll keep on cutting budgets for the ones who need them most, when they could do what shoppers do. Pay off that debt gradually. Keep it manageable. But keep on eating properly while you do it. You need your strength to work. You need to work to pay off the debt. Earn enough and you can pay your taxes, help the less well off. Pay off more of the debt when you’ve got a bit more coming in.
Perhaps we need a housekeeper in charge.