Published in the Irish Independent 23rd March 2020 under the title, ‘How The Drugery Of The Weekly Shopping Became A Silver Lining.’

One day, fadó, fadó, my husband told me to enjoy myself, as I headed out the door to do the weekly ‘big grocery shop’.  It was back when our kids were small and we were doing the ‘he Tarzan, earning the money and me Jane, doing everything else’ routine which in fact we found worked quite well for us.  So, the big shop was part of my job specification, although in fairness to him, he did help if he was around.  The problem was that he generally wasn’t.  However, the day he told me to enjoy myself grocery shopping, I almost started divorce proceedings.

At this more mellow (well until recently, it was reasonably mellow) stage of our lives we generally do the big shop together and he now understands that it’s not exactly enjoyable.  We usually reward ourselves with a coffee afterwards which we enjoy at table for three; me, him and the loaded trolley.

Grocery shopping is mainly just hard work.  Steering a trolley around crowded, noisy aisles while trying not to run anyone over, especially those who stop to have a chat right in front of the very shelves you are attempting to access, can be headache inducing.  These days it is further complicated by our now adult kids texting us their requests as we go, so that as well as pushing the trolley, I am constantly putting my glasses on and off, like some demented juggler, as I attempt to read the barrage of incoming messages.  I know I should refuse to accept late orders but I am a pushover. 

When you finally arrive at the checkout there is the unseemly race to get everything out of the trolley and onto the conveyor belt before it starts piling up at the other end, thus making packing your bags almost impossible.  And all the while you are conscious of the line of shoppers behind you, bearing down on you, as you attempt to execute this feat of speed, dexterity and balance. 

Then there is the utter shame of realising that you have forgotten something vital and have to run to fetch it, muttering ‘really sorry, really sorry’ to all and sundry.  By the time you have your shopping bagged and paid for and are walking out again you are exhausted, both mentally and physically. And you still have the unloading it all and putting it away when you get home to look forward to.  Enjoyable?  No.  Not really.

But how the world has changed.  Corona virus means that going to the supermarket for the ‘big shop’ is now probably the only excursion you are doing in a week.  Suddenly you find that you are actually looking forward to getting out for something other than a walk.  You are doing something with a purpose. 

In this new world, everything has slowed down, including supermarket shopping. Yesterday we were welcomed by staff at the door and invited to sanitise our hands and the trolley handle and then invited to wear disposable gloves.  And I know this sounds mental but I felt cared for and valued as customer. 

We were then funnelled into a Disney type queuing system and our entry into the supermarket was controlled, so that the usual kind of mayhem had given way to a far more zen experience.  People were generally conscious of social distancing and so there was plenty of space.  No one was stopping for chats, other than a very brief exchange of pleasantries.  And there seemed to be a lot of smiling.  But best of all (and I hope I didn’t imagine this), the piped music seemed more laid back than usual and was interspersed with very reassuring messages about how they would keep the shelves stocked and the bread fresh so we would all have everything we need to get us through.  The fact that they didn’t have any root spray for middle aged ‘aul wans’ whose hair is rapidly returning to its natural state, is neither here nor there. Staff were plentiful, helpful and appreciated by most shoppers.

But the experience at the checkout was almost meditative.  No one could approach until you had finished packing, paid and moved away.  There was space and time to sort out your bags in an orderly fashion which, believe me, makes the unpacking and putting away at home much easier.

As we floated back out to the car park, albeit without our usual coffee,  I reminded himself of the time he told me to enjoy myself doing the big grocery shop and remarked that who would have thought it would be in the midst of this national crisis that I would finally find enjoyment in what I have dreaded doing every week,  for decades.  Silver linings and all that.