Saturday, 18 October 2014

Come Shop With Me

Earlier this week I drove to Bluewater to visit Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall.  As someone who has zero interest in cooking with a history of disastrous burnt offerings reflecting this, my family appreciate that in order to survive somebody else has to be chef.  In this case it is the supermarket.  Now the standard of convenience meals in supermarkets varies.  Asda is so-so.  Tesco slightly better.  Sainsbury’s all right.  Waitrose – very good if you’re a meat eater (I’m not).  Marks & Spencer – brilliant.  There is something for everyone.  The vegetarian shelves (note the plural) are enticing and imaginative, and there is plenty of choice when it comes to fresh vegetables to steam alongside your mains, plus lots and lots of fresh fruit, whether in a punnet or a peel-back pot.
          Anyway, rather than sound like I’m on a marketing campaign for M & S (which I’m most definitely not), I’ll instead tell you what recently happened after I walked out of their Food Hall with my four bags of shopping.  Quite by chance I discovered – in the pyjama and nightie aisle – my father.  This was quite a surprise because (a) he loathes shopping (b) he particularly detests Bluewater, and (c) he doesn’t need a new pair of pyjamas as his twenty-five-year-old paisley pair are still going strong, so why waste money?  As I bore down on Father Bryant with my four weighty bags of goodies, his face registered delight.
          ‘Ah, Debs, am I glad to see you!’
          ‘Hello, Dad.’  I kissed him on the cheek.  ‘Aren’t you with Mum?’
          ‘Yes,’ said my father, ‘or at least I was until ten minutes ago.’
          ‘Oh, where’s she gone then?’
          ‘I don’t know.  One minute she was standing beside me, and the next she’d wandered off.’
          Now the chances are that my mother did indeed inform my father of her impending departure but he simply didn’t hear.  Father Bryant has been a taddy deaf…okay very deaf…for several years.  He has a hearing aid which seems to be as much use as snow in a microwave.
          ‘Well she can’t have gone far,’ I said.
          After all, Mother Bryant walks slightly faster than a snail and has one of those walker contraptions on wheels.  It’s fireman red, fitted with a shopping basket, a seat and, if she’s having a good day, there’s a handbrake that can be deployed to stop her mowing down other shoppers.  Frankly I think it should have a bell too, but generally Mother Bryant’s ‘good days’ are few and far between.
          ‘Have you actually looked for her?’ I asked Father Bryant.
          ‘No, my sciatica is playing me up.’
          ‘Does she have her mobile phone on her?’
          ‘Yes, but the battery is flat.’
          ‘Okay, if I go off and find her, do you have your mobile phone so I can call you to say where we are?’
          ‘No, I left it at home.’
          ‘Well I expect she’s popped to the Ladies.  You stay here in case she comes back, and I’ll quickly check the loos.’  I dumped my shopping at my father’s feet.  ‘Look after this for me.’
          I jogged to the escalator, took the steps two at a time, trotted through the Children’s Department and burst into the Ladies.  ‘Mum, are you in here?’ A number of locked doors greeted me and the occupants remained silent.  Right, not in the Ladies.  I did a swift about turn, back through Children’s Department and bounced down the escalator…to find no Father Bryant and no shopping bags.  Marvelous!  There was nothing for it, I’d have to now look for him too.
          I then systematically jogged up and down the pyjama and nightie aisles attracting the attention of a bored security guard. Oh aye?  What have we here?  Clearly that blonde impersonating Zebedee is a potential shoplifter ready to grab and run.  His eyes tried to pin me to a mannequin modelling a dressing gown, but I was too fast for him.  I sprung into the next aisle but not before catching a glimpse of him talking into his radio.
          To throw the security guard’s attention, I decided it might be beneficial to call out to my parents whilst jogging along the aisles.  Father Bryant was probably a lost cause, because of the deafness, but Mother Bryant is renowned for her bionic hearing.  Indeed, it’s the only part of her that still works properly.
          ‘Mum?’ I called as I panted along.  A startled lady moved smartly out of my way.  ‘Dad?’ I called and puffed round the corner slap into another security guard.
          ‘Do I look like your father?’ he asked. Well actually, no he didn’t.  He was black for starters and about ten years too young.
          ‘Sorry,’ I apologised, ‘I’m looking for my parents.  And four shopping bags,’ I added as an afterthought.
          At that point there was an announcement on the store tannoy.  ‘Will Mr Anthony Bryant please make his way to the Food Hall where his wife is waiting?’
          ‘Ah,’ I beamed at the security guard, ‘that’ll be my mother.’  I sped off to the Food Hall.  There was Father Bryant wandering aimlessly around the trolleys and shopping baskets, but no Mother Bryant.
          ‘Dad!’ I called.  ‘I thought I told you not to move!’
          ‘I didn’t,’ he insisted, ‘you did.’
          ‘Yes, I told you I was going to search the Ladies…oh never mind.  Where’s Mum?’
          ‘She’s not here. Did that announcement say the Food Hall or somewhere else?’
          ‘No, it definitely said the Food Hall.  Tell you what, I’ll run up and down the food aisles and I’ll find Mum in no time.’
          So once again I sped off.  Down Fruit and Veg, past Salads, down the Italian aisle, up the Indian aisle, down Chinese, up Vegetarian.  No Mother Bryant.  ‘Mum,’ I gasped.  I was in the unchartered waters of dog food and cat litter now, of which my mother surely had no need, but I dare not leave an aisle unexplored.  Perhaps I should turn up my vocal volume?
          ‘MUM!’ I fog-horned as I sped into Bakery.  And straight into a third security guard who stepped out behind the gluten-free.
          ‘Do I look like your mother?’ he asked.  They’re a right bunch of jokers these security guards.
          ‘Obviously not,’ I glared at him balefully.  ‘Now if you will please excuse me.’  I tossed my hair back and set off at a run.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d shifted my butt so fast.  As I completed my lap of the Food Hall I discovered Mother Bryant, no less, hanging onto her walker.  ‘Oh thank God,’ I gasped and sank down on the walker’s seat.
          ‘Debs, whatever are you doing here?  You’re all out of breath.  Yes, sit down, dear, have a rest.  Shall I try pushing you?  Oh look, there’s your father. I lost him half an hour ago.  I told him not to wander off, and what does he do?  Yoo-hoo!  Tony!  Tone-eeee, over here.’
          Father Bryant turned around and registered our presence.  So did the three security guards who had now converged as one.  Their expression was clear.  ‘The blonde suspect is working with two pensioners who are pretending to have lost each other.  Any minute now they’re going to climb aboard the walker and zoom off without deploying the handbrake.’
          ‘Excuse me, Madam,’ said one of the guards striding over. ‘Do you have a receipt for those four bags of shopping?’
          So there you have it.  A perfectly normal afternoon in Marks and Spencer with the parents.  Which reminds me.  An eighty-one-year-old woman was arrested for shop lifting.  When she went before the Judge, he asked her what she had stolen.  ‘A can of peaches,’ she replied, ‘because I was hungry.’  The Judge asked how many peach slices she’d eaten.  ‘Six,’ said the old woman.  ‘In that case,’ said the Judge, ‘I will jail you for six days.’  Before the Judge could bang his hammer, the old lady’s husband piped up.  ‘Your Honour, she also stole a can of peas…’

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