One of my most ardent proclamations is that the bread at the Tesco is terrible. Never buy bread at Tesco, I say. When you cut it, it disintegrates into sawdust. It lasts about half an hour before it turns hard enough to crack a tooth on. Tesco bread is rubbish. Recently, i have been buying my bread elsewhere. In cafes that stock posh bread. In high-end bread shops frequented by shoppers for whom the difference between a 70p Tesco loaf and a £3.50 sourdough organic loaf is an irrelevance. I even bought one at a so-called farmer’s market once (scant change from a fiver!) Frugal is my middle name, so for me this is radical belief.
This morning I went to Tesco and there was one thing on my mind. A cheap so-called farmhouse white tin loaf (70p). This will go well with my tin of red salmon and cup of tea. How to explain this volte-face of my customer choice? At the supermarket the judgement I face is stark. Follow my belief or follow my appetite? Both, I know, can betray you. Has the python of my frugality suffocated the wolf of my appetite? All these things intersect. Food can taste bad in your mouth because you know how expensive it is. I know how that works with luxury. If you’re paying a lot for a fancy hotel room, you might suddenly start to feel less relaxed. There is also the business of deep routine. Cheap bread I lived off for years. My shift to sourdough organic with no sugar and extra minerals is relatively recent and not yet built on sturdy foundations. Deep routine is reasserting its power over surface routine. I bought the 70p tin-loaf. It’s a case of not denying a deep truth about myself: deep frugality.
I bought some matches from Tesco. I need matches for my gas cooker, so I buy a big box of matches. There must be 500 matches or so in there. When I got home and went hunting for a match I drew out of the box the tiny shard of wood that is traditional in a match, but this time rather than the wood being topped by a little cap of red sulphur which you stroke on the abrasive strip along the side of the box to create the required flame, there was no sulphur. This was just a tiny shard of wood. I peered into the box and to my chagrin and astonishment about half of the matchsticks had no sulphur top, rendering them useless.
Next time I go to Tesco to buy a box of matches, I shall look into the box to check if there are once again a selction of the matches lacking in their traditional sulphur cap. If that is the case I shall approach a member of staff. I will explain: ‘Excuse me for disturbing you but I wanted to buy this box of matches but when I peeked in the box…’ Here the employee will look disbelieving at the idea of somemone looking inside a box of matches to check on the contents, maybe counting them to check that there are indeed the 500 matches claimed on the box. ‘…When I peeked in the box some of the matches didn’t have any sulpur caps on them.’ The employee will lead me across to his manager. By this time I will be starting to regret my complaint. What do I hope to achieve here? An extra box of complimentary matches? To be ever after called ‘matchstickman’ by the employees of my local Tesco? There is in fact no honorable way to proceed in this affair. Memo to self: do not peer into the box of matches you are about to buy. It can only result in humiliation. It is a perfect example of a case where ignorance is bliss.
When you find yourself alone in a lift you are magnetically drawn to transgression. You magically become an arch villain. The simple closing of the lift doors turns you from Jekyll to Hyde and now you have eight or nine seconds to accomplish your secretest desire. Between the seventh floor and the ground floor can you say the word ‘fuck’ fifty times? Maybe you need to sing the line of your cheesiest pop anthem. Something by Queen perhaps. …Mama Mia Mama Mia. Mama. Mia let me go…! Or run around the four square metres of lift floor like some deranged hyena.
If the lift has a mirror the transformation is even more monstrous. Your image in the glass is phenomenological, existential. The lustre of your flesh is deeply real. These instants alone in the lift are moments of transfiguration. Here’s what to do. You approach the lift mirror. You lift your hands up to below the line of your chin and then you peel off the skin-tight latex mask you have been wearing all your life to reveal the mutant beneath. At this moment the lift door opens and a trio of blokes in cheap suits shuffle in.
When you are watching shampoo adverts or beauty product adverts on the telly and you hear that a majority of women found that their hair felt silkier or their skin felt smoother after application of the product, there is often some small writing at the bottom of the screen saying that 53% of 38 women answered the survey positively as regards the product. This is research, but only just. And only just positive. What it relies on is us being wooed by that word research. Research is a sacred word. On the radio today it said that 9 million people in the UK suffer from loneliness. What kind of research can this be? I suppose we all feel a bit lonely sometimes, or fed up, which is my preferred term. Does this mean that I suffer from loneliness?
I have taken to compiling my own research. My favourite one is my ‘monkey sausage nose’ research which says that children under 8 respond better to a conversation with an adult if your conversation is peppered with certain words. ‘Monkey’ is the top word; ‘sausage’ is the second-placed word and ‘nose’ is the third-placed word. In a suvey of 38 children under eight that I have spoken to over the years, the responses to monkey, sausage and nose were more positive than to three other randomly chosen words. Say, spread-sheet, car insurance and help-to-buy housing premium ratio.