COLUMN: November 3, 2016

A picture of an otter. There are no otters in this column, but pictures of plastic carrier bags are quite boring and will actively prevent people from reading it

I BOUGHT a pen and a roll of wrapping paper from a shop and the woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted a bag.

“No,” I thought, “But you could wrap it for me, and then I would have extra wrapping paper.”

“No, thank you,” I said. I had weighed up the situation in my mind and realised that the pen could go straight into its new jacket pocket home, and it was not as if I would gain anything from carrying the roll of wrapping paper in a bag rather than in my hand. If anything, it would be worse as the roll would just keep bashing into me. Bags are rubbish, I thought. Stop trying to press bags upon me, Shop Woman.

I was too reckless. If only I had known that I would offend the gods of the carrier bags, I would have been more careful.

I went into another shop and bought the item which would go inside the wrapping paper – a box of Lego, intended for my soon-to-be-double-figured daughter. “Would you like a bag?” the man behind the counter asked. “No, thank you,” I said.

Then I weighed it up. Now I would have two items to carry – one in each hand. What if I fell over? I can never rule that out.

“Actually, yes, can I have a bag, please?” I said, after I had paid by card. I rummaged in my back pocket and pulled out a warm 5p piece. A momentary look of disgust flashed across Shop Man’s face as I dropped the coin into his hand. I did not blame him.

I put the Lego box and wrapping paper in my newly-purchased bag and left the shop feeling fairly happy with myself. I had already bought a birthday card, so I was bang up to date.

I did not even mind, as I walked back to the office, that I was right about the wrapping paper bashing into me as the bag swung in time to my weird lollop of a walk. The gods of the carrier bags had taken their revenge for my slight, and I did not care. I had achieved the bare minimum expected of a man in my position.

And then, as I got closer to my office, I remembered that last time I had slightly raised the bar by buying a box of chocolates. “Why must I constantly if only very marginally improve my performance?” I opined. “I have made a very minimal rod for my own back.”

Then I remembered that I had seen the particular sort of chocolates in the shop over the road from my office. It just went to show, I thought, that that day I was a winner with tiger blood.

I went into the shop, wrapping paper poking my armpit, and went to the confectionery aisle. “Where are they? Where are they? Ah!” I thought. I reached out and found the particular chocolates. Sunbeams shone out from them in their humble place on the shelf.

I picked them up, triumphant! And then I am not entirely sure what happened next.

I can only assume it was the true revenge of the gods of the carrier bags. Or maybe I was confused by a victory. But somehow, in my addled brain, I had decided that the carrier bag I was holding in my hand was a basket.

I dropped the chocolates straight into my bag.

And I did not realise what I had done until I noticed the mini-supermarket worker who was stacking the shelves about a metre to my left and who had clearly seen everything.

How on earth was I going to retrieve this situation? What was I going to say to her? “I’m not shoplifting, honest, I was just confused by a bag.”

“There’s only one thing to do,” my useless brain told me. “Shift the blame. I don’t know how. Why are you asking me? Just do something. Quickly, that woman is looking.”

And so, I yanked the chocolates out of the bag, and yelled, “You naughty chocolates. You know you’re not meant to be in there. Don’t do it again.”

The woman’s jaw dropped. I think her brain told her, “No, you’re OK, you’re hallucinating.” And then I raced to the self-checkout, and paid for the chocolates, waving my card about so that nobody was left in any doubt I was buying them.

The machine asked if I wanted a bag.

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