I can’t remember if I’ve ever written this out loud before or just included it as a habit of a character in some story, but when I’m out buying groceries and suchlike, I always look to see what the people around me are buying. Often the items they have picked up make for strange combinations (the other day I queued behind a couple who were buying six litres of vodka to only two packets of wafer-thin ham (one smoked, one not)) (once I myself reached the checkout with milk, a pineapple and some batteries (my own finest shopping moment)).
Even better is when I happen to find a shopping list – usually on the floor or still attached to a trolley. I’ve started a bit of a collection. Since not much else is happening right now, I thought I would share it with you.
a: I like that the first two things this shopper thought of when they sat down to make their list were Grapes and Dog Poo Bags (I also like the way they have written ‘Dog Poo’ quite small and then ‘Bags’ much bigger, as if they felt they shouldn’t say ‘Dog Poo’ so loud, even on their own shopping list). This list was found in December and suggests someone who had good intentions to document their 2014, but then as the year drew to a close decided they should at least make some use of their diary.
b: On this one, I like the confidence with which a type of cake has been decided upon – Battenburg, for sure. More drink, apart from making me think of Father Ted, is a brilliant instruction and makes me wonder whether the next week’s list included Even more drink? Then a space, and tacked on the end, as if they are perhaps staple items that the list’s creator(s) stock up on every week – Jam, Bacon, Milk.
c: This one actually had a list of tasks on the flip side – including getting the shopping. And, for the most part this is quite a practical, organised list – Cotton Buds, a Card, Spray Oil (or, if not, Oil – let’s make sure we have a contingency). But as it gets further down the page (well, post-it note), it unravels slightly… Biscuits (any will do), Choc (again, no more detail, not even the full word)… Soda and Whisky.
d: This one was a teeny-tiny list, one of those really wee post-its that are about the size of a Creme Egg (just measuring with whatever is handy) (are those post-it notes actually a proper paper size, like A8 or A9 or something? Answers on a post-it note). It’s clearly the list of someone very healthy – or at least someone who has intentions of being very healthy.
e: And this is another healthy one – more Blueberries (hope the shop is well stocked!). This list has weirdly been written in the bottom right hand corner of a piece of paper, which suggests that some sort of psychological analysis would turn up something juicy. I also initially misread the last item as Ears. I assume it’s actually Pears and not Peas, unless they’ve got confused and started the list again.
f: This one is quite difficult to read – and huge as well. This shopper is really hedging their bets – I mean, how are they going to know what to get from that? It suggests someone manically scrawling a list as they head out – a last minute mishmash of vague Fruit, barely–considered Sausages, eleventh-hour Mouthwash and whatever it is they’ve written under Coffee there. A shambles. F-.
g: From one extreme to another. Very neat handwriting, seemingly precise, but actually completely illogical. 3 Grapefruit, 3 Bananas (which I’m sure normally come in bunches of >3), but how many Eggs? Surely eggs are the classic ‘write down a quantity’ item of shopping?!?! Madness.
h: And finally… this is probably the most boring list in my collection actually. I should have kept a more interesting one back so that I could end on a high. Well… I’d like to think that this shopper actually went completely off script once they were actually there, and came back with all kinds of strange goodies. There, that’s excitement for you.
Essentially, my collection of abandoned shopping lists tell me what people planned but not what actually happened. Nevertheless, I find the idiosyncracies of strangers’ shopping lists oddly compelling in their structure and content. But there’s something else I like about my collection…
In the information age, data is valuable – supermarkets use club cards to track our shopping habits, rewarding us with magical points when we agree to provide them with this information.
And if my collection of shopping lists represents anything, it is a gloriously pointless inversion of this practice, a personal, unscientific and completely profitless method of harvesting unreliable data that ultimately has no use. Except that, in some small way, it makes me happy.