I went down to the new Sainsbury's local to get a few bits and bobs in. It's just a little shop- really just a petrol station with big ideas- but it is surprisingly difficult to find what you're after, as they seem to take a perverse pleasure in hiding approximately one in five items exactly where you wouldn't think of looking. So you will spend ten minutes scouring the vegetable aisle for mushrooms, before giving in and going to the checkout to ask, finally locating them twenty yards away, huddled in between the cornish pasties and the yoghurt. Ah yes, that well known cornish pastie, mushroom and yoghurt combination. It must be the staple diet of some parts of Stockport, or something.
So, I hunt down the mushrooms and pick up my other few bits and bobs (we're making a late-night spaghetti bolognaise, but have just realised we have just about none of the ingredients at all; if we couldn't go to Sainsburys we would have to make do with a minced beef sandwich). The last item on the list is margarine- only they don't seem to have the normal, common-or-garden stuff in stock. Instead, I pick up a tub of something unfamiliar, emblazoned with a colourful logo- it appears to some new-fangled kind of Flora. Well, it'll do. I stick it in the basket and head for the checkout.
As the woman is ringing the items through, I think I see flash onto the little screen some crazy price for the margarine. I must be mistaken, but to make sure I get a hold of a receipt. And there it is, sure enough: Flora margarine, $3.85. 3.85, for a tub of margarine? Oh, there must be some mistake! I wait for the woman to finish with the next customer and hand it back over.
'Er, this margarine is 3.85, apparently.'
She takes it off me and has a look.
'Oh that's right, this isn't normal margarine, you see. It's got added vitamins, and extra-low cholestorol- that's why it's called 'Pro-activ'.
Now I don't know about you, but of all the qualities I expect from a margarine, a propensity for being pro-active (or, if you insist, Pro-activ) does not figure highly. Proactivity I might look for in a team of management consultants. But a tub of margarine? If anything I want it to passive- pliant, even. I want it to bend to my will, to submit meekly to its fate of being spread out thinly across a slab of white sliced, and then covered with a chunk of beef, a dollop of marmite, or whatever takes my fancy. I certainly don't want margarine that has been on an assertiveness course chipping in with snack-improvement suggestions:
'How about sticking another slice of ham in here, mate?'
"Have you considered a bit of piccalilli at all? Or some radishes? I think this sandwich could definitely use a couple of radishes.'
'Hey, you're spreading me a bit thick there, pal. No need to overdo it- remember I'm packed with fourteen extra vitamins here!'
And that might not be the end of it. Maybe you would be unlucky enough to pick up a tub of margarine that was not only pro-active, but downright militant. A rabble-rouser. You'd put it away, and next time you opened the fridge you'd have rebellion on your hands.
'Hey, you. Keep your hands off that celery!'
'Take one bite out of that tomato, pal, and we're downing tools in here!'
Before you know it you'd have the vegetable rack on a work-to-rule, and the salad cream would have joined forces with the mayonnaise to put a halt on all movement of yoghurt. A flying picket of burly soup tins would be making its way across county lines from the larder, and your attempts to break the strike using emergency shipments of non-union chicken chow-mein brought in from outside would be met with stern resistance. There would be a riot, and you would find yourself on News at Ten. Eventually the government would get involved and you would be forced to sit helplessly by, while appointed representatives from your fridge- a tub of Ski yoghurt and a bottle of Cobra Indian lager- travelled to London to enjoy beer and sandwiches at Number 10.
Now I've voted Labour all my life, and I'm all for workers' rights- but I'll be damned if I'm having my fridge turn into a scale-model of Britain during the Winter of Discontent. Hell, all I want is a ham sandwich. Maybe a couple of slices of toast. I mean, it's not too much to ask for, now is it? So I take the tub of 'Pro-activ' margarine back off the checkout lady and place it carefully back in its place, and pick up some Flora low-fat spread instead. An honest-to-goodness margarine, in my view, that will put in a good day's work for a good day's pay, and never get ideas above its station. Now that is a margarine I can work with. And at 98p a tub, I don't think the exhorbitant cost of labour is going to make me close down my Levenshulme fridge, and outsource the whole sandwich-making operation out to India. So everyone's a winner- now isn't that the sensible, modern-day way to do things?
I certainly think so- if you do too, you should avoid groceries making overblown claims, and go for the old-fashioned option. You will find it the low-fat Flora in its usual place- between the frozen peas and the engine oil, on the shelf underneath the A-Z of south Manchester and Cheshire. Happy shopping to you all!