I used to be a supermarket trolley porter as a Saturday job when I was a student. It was either that or McDonalds. I did have some pride. It wasn't the greatest of jobs but I did have a certain respect for it. It was like being a cowboy back in the Wild West. It was our job to drive the trolleys back to their destination through all weather and all obstacles to herd them back to the ranch before sundown. And underneath the mean exterior of every trolley herder is a lonely man who longs for a sweet gal and a place to call home. Every trolley herder has a song in his heart: rollin' rollin' rollin', keep them trolleys rollin', though the store is closin'The trolleys were tough to a one. They all wanted to be free. They all wanted to go their own way. But I had a deep respect for them and y'know, I think they had respect for me.
Now there are no more supermarket trolley porters left. Yet another fine vocation that has died out as a result of advancing technology. Now trolleys can be trusted to find their own way back to the store. The have been fitted with ever more sophisticated artificial intelligence. This new breed of homing trolley is also smart enough to politely assist the modern shopper and make his or her shopping experience more pleasant. It can keep its eye on the kiddies while mother or father are away hunting for bargains. It can even pick the best checkout queue with a 92% optimality rate. But there is not a single one that could outwit any of my herd from back in my student days. And they're a real nasty bunch too. They have no respect for us trolley types. The very people they made redundant. People who know trolleys. People who have trolleys in their blood.
I was doing my weekly shopping the other day and my trolley was an especially nasty piece of work. I was just stocking up on some middle class middle income essentials. Some juicy looking tomatoes, some mince (mince and tatties are very working class fashionable at the moment), some fresh basil (always useful), garlic (they say its good for you) and a good bottle of red wine they had on special offer.
I was absent-mindedly filling the trolley and admiring the beautifully laid out cheese counter when the trolley said "We are now approaching isle 23 - pasta and rice. Might I suggest some Durham wheat spaghetti? With the ingredients you have already chosen you could make the traditional Italian dish spaghetti bolognaise."
"No... thank you," I said to the trolley. I always find manners awkward with machines that have no gratitude. Have you ever said thank you to a cash machine after it gives you some money? No? Maybe just me then. The trolley continued anyway.
"A rich bolognaise sauce made with ripe tomatoes and a hint of basil accompanied with a good Italian red wine makes the perfect romantic dinner. Let the Italians put some passion back into your love life."
"No," I said again to the trolley's insistent culinary and romantic advice. "I don't want a bolognaise sauce, I don't want a romantic dinner and I don't want any spaghetti."
Even I will admit that back in the good old days, trolleys were not perfect. They were very difficult to manoeuvre for a start. When trolleys turned corners they weren't meant to, people always said that they had a mind of their own. Little did they realise that this would soon be the case literally.
The trolley turned sharply to the left into isle 23 saying "I'll just let you have a look at the fine range of spaghetti and pastas that we stock here. You were heading that way anyway."
I wasn't heading that way at all. I wanted to go straight on and buy some buns.
"Here we are now," said the trolley. "Buy the spaghetti."
"I don't want the spaghetti," I said.
"Buy the spaghetti."
"I don't want..."
"Buy the spaghetti."
"I don't... hello, are you listening?"
"Buy the spaghetti."
Just my luck to get a deranged trolley. I remember the days when you would take faulty computers to the repair shop. They'd wiggle the components about a bit, blow the dust out of the fan, give it a bit of a slap and charge you £50. Now computers have artificial intelligence their faults are more difficult to fix. If a computer develops a psychological problem it has to be sent to a councillor. I pitied the poor psychiatrist who'd have to get this spaghetti obsessed trolley on to his leather couch. I'll bet that's not what they expected when they got their degree. All the same, I couldn't be bothered with the trolley and its troubles so I abandoned it in isle 23 and left the shop. I decided that I could live on Pot Noodles for the next week anyway.
I walked through the car park watching all the other sane trolleys obediently wandering back to the trolley park at the front of the shop. They clattered over the rough tarmac and I could swear I could hear their murmuring on the breeze. As I stopped to listen properly I heard clearly, "That's him. GET HIM!"
Suddenly all the trolleys changed direction and started trundling towards me. I know only too well (from my herding days) that getting run over by a dozen trolleys is right painful so I legged it.
Let me tell you friends, modern shopping trolleys are nippy wee bastards. I was running as fast as I could and the trolleys were gaining on me. I could hear their metallic clatter get louder and louder.
In all my days as a trolley herder I have never seen a stampede and there I was being chased by a rampaging mob of irate shopping trolleys. I had no idea what to do. I was running so hard I nearly fell down the steps.
Of course! I bounded down the steps three at a time then stopped at the bottom, turned to face my pursuers and said "Come get some!" in by best Duke Nukem voice. I wish someone had heard me because it sounded cool.
Before the trolleys knew what was happening they were hurling themselves down the steps like wussy lemmings. Their fragile metal frames bashed and buckled on the concrete steps. Their artificial intelligence units were crushed against metal and concrete and their sad subservient existences fizzled out.
I recognised my trolley. It still had my shopping in it. It was hurling through the air in a kamikaze dive. I rolled on the ground and the psycho trolley just brushed my shoulder and smashed to the ground.
I turned and looked down at the sorry heap of twisted metal and fractured plastic lying in a pool of spilled red wine on the pavement. As the last of its circuits sparked out of life I said, "I knew your father. You're not half the trolley he was."
Stuart Leitch, April 2001