Tales from the checkout

Have plastic bags invaded our subconscious?
Have plastic bags invaded our subconscious?
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A chance remark at a supermarket checkout about paying for plastic bags sparked a train of lively reminiscence.

My mother remarked that it always used to be customary to take a shopping bag or basket of one’s own on any trip to the shops.

To this I can attest, having been despatched to the local shop with a muddy-green version kept specifically for potato haulage which was made not of traditional materials, but of new-fangled poly-something. While this had the merit of being able to be wiped clean, its handles tended to stretch alarmingly under each successive five pounds of potatoes, until I was dragging it home behind me rather than carrying it. However, we agreed that even this was preferable to the paper carrier bags with string handles formerly provided by retailers, which cut into the palm or fingers intolerably when full.

String bags were much less cumbersome than baskets and structured shopping bags, but had the problem of being unable to retain smaller items, which had an unfortunate tendency to fall out through the holes. Even someone sufficiently canny to use one with a small-gauge mesh would eventually fall prey to this when the knots in the net unravelled or the string broke.

Finding a useful bag of the correct materials was a triumph, and the result was treasured. However, not every family went as far as my husband’s... in naming theirs! It was called “Pal”, presumably because it went everywhere with them!

Most serious and regular shoppers have now come full circle in bringing their own bags, and some stores even reward those who do so through loyalty card points. In Australia, where plastic bags have to be paid for, some places assume you have no bags and charge automatically for them. By contrast in Kuala Lumpur, everything is enthusiastically bagged, ensuring that purchasers acted as mobile advertising hoardings during the rest of their shop.

Having written this article, a few days later someone said to me that she had a dream in which I was driving a bus.

Because so many people were waiting to board, I insisted, to save space, everyone should remove their shoes and put them in a box, but it was too small to accommodate them all. The dreamer then suggested that everyone should see if they have a plastic bag to put the shoes into!

It seems not only have plastic bags invaded our hedgerows and tree branches, they have also colonised our subconscious too!