Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I am a woman. I shop. I have to shop in order to keep body and soul together, not just my own but my husband’s as well. I even enjoy shopping sometimes. And I can truthfully state that if I had more money, I’d do more shopping. But even if I had a never-ending floodtide of banknotes and wall-to-wall credit cards, my shopping list would still include items of ‘woman-shopping’. Woman-shopping items are those useful things that keep life moving on. The useful things that stop other things from falling apart or looking dirty. The useful things that have to be bought, though we’d really rather not pay for them, thank you. The useful things that men don’t buy, won’t buy and only know they should buy if they have a wife or mother to tell them.

‘Man-shopping’ items are non-essentials: things for pleasure and leisure or for eating between meals. Man-shopping items come in sexy black bottles or cans with ring pulls. Even if a man-shopping list includes some rare item of foodstuff this will invariably come in a single pack, ready-to-serve, microwavable, one-person portion that wouldn’t feed two even if the two were both gnats.

Woman-shopping items come in giant sizes, enough for the whole family and twenty unexpected guests with enough left over for tomorrow’s lunch. Woman-shopping items come multi-pack, long-life and are totally and completely resealable for easy use and storage.

I was recently next in line to a man doing man-shopping in the local supermarket. His basket held three of those four-can packs of lager, the ones with plastic carrying handles; one bottle each of whisky, port, vodka, a very nice claret and one large brand-name cola. He had in fact purchased a necessity in the form of shampoo, but this came shrink-wrapped in see-through plastic with aftershave lotion: two matching bottles in deep aqua-green, screw-capped in mean and moody black and labelled in sexy silver. In the interest of fairness, I must report there was also some food in his basket. From the wide aisles laden with an infinite variety of foodstuffs, he'd actually managed to locate and retrieve, without incident or serious injury to himself, two fruit yoghurts and a pack of four wholewheat bread rolls. My trolley held: ‘two for the price of one’ teabags, inevitable toilet rolls, washing up liquid, (‘three for the price of two’ of course), rubber gloves, baked beans, dried pasta, cat food, potatoes (not ready washed) and three items of medicine/toiletries purchased in advance of need.

Apart from this enviable talent for ignoring the practicalities of life without experiencing any twinges of guilt or remorse, men have a gift that makes it all the more difficult to understand how they can be so unbelievably useless at the day-to-day stuff. Quite simply, men can focus single-mindedly on a job without being sidetracked. We are told that men get further in life and achieve more goals because they are much better than women at concentrating on the matter at hand. Women know the real reason is because men (a) only ever have themselves to consider and (b) haven’t got enough brain cells to manage more than one task at a time anyway. Unlike women, who multi-task cheerfully without smudging their lipstick or even breathing heavily. Unfortunately, this male super-power is never used for mundane supermarket shopping. Men save it for the really big game – comparison shopping.

Comparison shopping means being able to find the best item for the best price that will look good and function perfectly throughout an unduly extended life period. Men do this well. Men turn comparison shopping into an art form, which they perform with the nerve and tenacity of an arctic explorer and the grace and skill of a prima ballerina. But after all, as they are rendered nervous and troubled by anything that isn’t working properly, perhaps they really need to be able to do this well. They already have to spend hours doing things like rewiring perfectly sound wiring, polishing out imaginary scratches on the pristine surfaces of their cars and spend days reconfiguring their computers so that version 4.0 of ‘Dark Lord, The Ultimate Revenge!’ starts up 3 nanoseconds faster than the default speed of 2.5 microseconds. Having shopped with care in the first place must really ease those stress levels…

Or does it? Perhaps they’d be happier if they bought whatever was handy, with a modicum of regard for a reasonable price, and then stopped worrying about it. Nature is chaos. As soon as something is created and brought to perfection it begins to decay. If men could accept as truth this small concept, perhaps they wouldn't get so stressed about perfection. And then, as long as the wheels didn’t actually drop off, they’d be a lot happier altogether.

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