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LEP Column: The Big Shop

This column first appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post.

It is Friday and I am doing the big shop. Alone.

It’s four days since I convinced my girlfriend that I could handle it without her. “I’ve got this,” I’d said – and we both knew I hadn’t. Four days to stew over the details. Four days to plan my route. Four days to contemplate the complexities of the daunting task that lay ahead.

Friday comes and there is no more time for planning. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. I pull into the car park as the September leaves fade into the autumnal colours of the ‘Aldi’ sign. It is a beautiful day and victory is in the air. I grip my bags for life and revel in an early success as I make my way to the entrance.

Then, panic. My heart begins beating a little faster as I pad down my trouser pockets and fumble my hand into my jacket. An old packet of chewing gum, a Greggs receipt a little greasy at the edges and a portable phone lead I was sure I’d need one day. Not today. Today it is useless to me. For today I am destined to fall at the first hurdle as my worst fears are realised. No pound coins. No trolley. No shop. Defeat.

I picture the disappointment in my girlfriend’s eyes as I turn towards the carpark in what feels like slow motion – sound tracked by a bugle playing in honour of this fallen hero. I gallant effort cut cruelly short. As I take my first stride back to my car, a dark shadow is cast over me. A woman. Tall. Thin. Dressed head to toe in white with long, flowing white hair like the main of a horse. She reaches out her hand and with an angelic voice, as angelic as a Bolton accent can get, she says, “Need some change, love?” There it is. A divine intervention, perhaps? Whatever it is, I thank her and unclip my chariot of metal.

It’s front wheel wobbles and tilts the trolley leftwards – but I can handle this. I am back on top and no dodgy wheel can hold me back now. I stride towards the automatic doors and they thrust open, as if they know a true big shop connoisseur has arrived. A man in control. A man who has ‘got this’.

I am in. My treasure awaits. I have borne witness to this process many times. I have watched in awe as my girlfriend expertly navigates from one aisle to the next, gathering what she needs on instinct, rarely missing a beat.

I take a deep breath and begin my journey.

Vegetables. Salads. Sauces. Cheese. Bread. Milk. I am on a roll. It is going well. Too well, I think to myself as I turn down the cereal aisle and stop in my tracks. Here it is. The inevitable bump in the road. Two women. Chatting. Trolleys side by side. I take a moment to measure the gap in my head. There is no room for me to pass and the Cheerios, my final item, the key to ultimate shopping glory and a place in the Aldi elite, not to mention my girlfriend’s heart, lies just beyond them. She had warned me of this. I had run this scenario again and again during the many sleepless nights that went before.

“Sorry!” I say with as much courage and confidence as I can muster, even though I haven’t actually done anything wrong. “Sorry!” they reply, even though they haven’t either. Their trolleys part and I am through, the sweet breeze of the air con running through my hair as I taste certain victory.

But my euphoria is short lived as I clock another woman pushing her wobbly trolley towards the last remaining box of Cheerios. This cannot be happening. How many more battles can I face today? I am tired and worn, but I have come too far to let this woman scupper my glory. We pick up the pace as we lock into a fierce death stare. My heart pounds through my chest and the aisle around me begins to blur. No. I must focus. I do have this. The colour drains from my face as I realise I am losing ground. Then, from nowhere, my girlfriend’s calming voice echoes through my head. “Ditch the trolley!” she says. And she is right. I free myself of the mental weight and lunge out for the solitary box. One last determined, breathless yank and is it mine. The woman lets out a gasp of disappointment and pretends to have been looking for something else. You can try to save face, my friend, but we both know I am the victor of this vicious battle.

I limp my way to the checkout and make some small talk about the weather. It is nothing but a formality. I am bruised, worn and yet, victorious.

I make my way back through the sliding doors, my bags for life bursting with sweet treasures and find another man, hunched over and with panic in his eyes. I know what’s coming. He sees me and makes his desperate plea.

“Got a quid, pal?” he says and I silently, humbly hand him my trolley. “Oh, nice one pal,” he chirps and begins his own journey. It is what my grey haired knight would have wanted. She had taught me a valuable lesson. We must look out for each other in this challenging quest through life.

I walk to my car as I think to myself that maybe, finally, I am finding my feet in this world.

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By darrylmorris