Friday, April 2, 2010

Shoplifters of the World

It was the late 70’s and we had Canadians staying with us. Arthur and Ella were, at least to my 8-year-old eyes, ancient. They had frizzy white hair, crazy accents and liked to dress in full Cape Breton McDonald tartan outfits complete with kilts and yellow pompomed berets. Yes, both of them. At 8, I thought this was pretty cool, but it’s only now that I can look back and imagine the horror my mother must have felt when they accompanied her to the local Birmingham supermarket for our weekly grocery shopping trip.

Arthur and Ella were fascinated by the fact that my mum brought shopping bags from home with her so that she didn’t have to pay for new ones. They were even more fascinated when she informed them that the check-out ladies didn’t pack your groceries for you here, but that you had to pack them yourselves- an idea as completely foreign to North American’s at the time as packing them was foreign to Brits.

So it was with full tartan attire and minds stuffed with quaint notions of packing your own groceries in your own bags that Arthur and Ella crossed the threshold of Sainsbury’s with my mum, my brother and me. We went about our normal shop; methodically up and down each aisle picking items only from the shopping list. We started in fruits & vegetables, continued through tins, jams, tissues, cleaning powders, baking, breads the deli and ended in the extensive alcohol section, where my mother noticed that there had been no sign whatsoever of the Canadians the whole time we’d been there. We combed back through the store with quizzical expressions on our faces as we scanned for the sight of bright red and yellow tartan but our search turned up nothing. It was then that we were approached by a worried looking man in a suit- the store manager who seemed to know my mum's name. We were led to a security office behind the check-out counters where a disgraced Arthur and Ella sat in their tartan kilts and pompomed berets. Not fully understanding what my mother had meant by ‘putting the groceries in your bag’, they’d been apprehended by security putting a bottle of whisky into Ella’s handbag.

Now this is one of my weirdest early memories and I’m sure my mother never thought she’d be fast-talking Arthur and Ella out of a shoplifting charge. But most of all I like to think about Sainsbury’s manager that day, and how he would have received a call saying that there were some old people in tartan skirts who’d just pocketed a bottle of booze in aisle 11. And that they were wearing matching pompom hats.

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