Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023

As a young man I knew exactly what I needed to roast a chicken: an oven tray and an oven to put it in, salt and pepper, and an uncompromising way with the butter. As an older man, which is to say one in his 50s, I now realise there’s another vital piece of equipment: a shopping trolley. I bought one just a few days ago and I’m not going to lie. It has changed my life.

Like the shopping trolley, this needs unpacking. I’ve never been very good at meal plans, despite the obvious benefits of gathering ingredients for a week’s cookery in one go. I recognise the value of them, especially if you have a life that makes it impossible to nip to the shops on the fly. I don’t have that sort of life; I have something more akin to a messy sock drawer. Happily, it does allow for a bit of improvisation. The problem is that constantly improvising, trying to be an impulsive, imaginative cook, inspired to make that day’s delightful creation by a mere come-hither purple sentence in a colour supplement about the plumpness of berries, can also be a total ache in the vas deferens. It demands effort. Walking down to the shops is fine; walking back with heaving canvas tote bags of ingredients every other day can make a man very tetchy, that man being me.

I knew there was a solution, because I’d seen people using it. I just wasn’t ready to become one of those people. By which I mean, an older person, even though I am demonstrably no longer young. That’s the thing about our mid-50s. It’s one of life’s hinges, which opens a door on a new way of being. The challenge is to step through it. At 54 I acquired an artificial hip, and then spent an age searching online to convince myself this was not a symptom of ageing, which is both true and also not. This year I was prescribed my first daily, happily pretty benign, medication. Others will doubtless join them in years to come.

A few weeks ago, I tripped over a kerb and landed flat on my face. When relating to friends what had happened, I insisted I had fallen over. Falling over is active. Children fall over. Teenagers fall over. But at some point, for older people, it becomes passive. Now you “have a fall” as if the calamity was always out there waiting for you to happen by. I was definitely not that person. The shopping trolley was, to my mind, part of the same narrative. Only people weakened by age needed to drag their shopping behind them on wheels.

This is because I am an idiot. One afternoon on the way to the shops with a head full of recipes and hands full of empty tote bags, I brooded yet again on the heavily laden effort of the walk home ahead of me. I found myself outside the Herne Hill Builders Centre. It’s a landmark in my south London neighbourhood. Yes, it is good for a Rawlplug and a pot of paint. But it also stocks 473,265 other lines, including kitchenware, inflatable Santas, bird feed and a range of Chanel eveningwear. I might have made one of these up, but you get the point. It stocks everything, including, as it turns out, lightweight polyester sacks on wheels.

The nice man even put it together for me. I shoved the canvas tote bags into it and wheeled away. And with that my food shop was revolutionised. My arms were saved. In the battle for a good dinner, of the sort you can look at with a warm glow of achievement even on the messiest of days, it’s the small things that matter: the sharp knife; the properly emulsified sauce; the well roasted chicken; and, as it happens, the shopping trolley.


By admin