Monday 23 March 2009

Chariots of Ire.

Recently I watched as a shopping trolley took an Little Old Lady to the shops. She was crossing the road as the lights changed and I am sure I saw the trolley give her a push to get her across before the inpatient Madrid traffic mowed her down. These things have a life of their own.

Whenever you go shopping in Spain, you just cannot miss these huge wheeled Shopping bags. They are not so much a trolley as a big bag on wheels and properly called “Carritos”, at least according to Collin’s dictionary. However, everyone in Spain calls them a “Carro de Compra” which makes sense – cart of the shopping – but is also very similar to “Carro de la Guerra”, which means a war chariot and in the hand of little old ladies there are definite similarities.

Look at them closely; And let’s start with the undercarriage. Those are not flimsy little wheels that twiddle and rattle as the carro pushes or pulls its owner along the street. Those are wheels designed for military applications. Some of them even seem to have four-wheel drive! Above the wheels rests a capacious fabric bag. This fabric has amazing properties: 1. its strength exceeds any NASA specification, 2. its inner, hidden, dimensions exceed its outer dimensions by many times, 3. it has some special antigravity material woven into it. This must be true, as the combined weight of anything that gets crammed into it seems to magically lighten.

I mean, I would have a serious problem coming home from the market with ten kilos of potatoes, 3 kilos of carrots, five six packs of milk (combined weight thirty kilos), assorted cans of fabadas, jars of white asparagus, beer cans, wine bottles, a surreptitious bottle of DYC and a complete jamón. Yet you see Little Old Ladies shove all this into a trolley, with hardly a bulge showing, and they grab the handle and waltz off into the Madrid sunshine as if the thing was empty.

It’s while they are travelling along the Madrid pavement that the inbuilt combined anti-theft, anti-hijacking radar comes into play. When you follow an aforementioned LOL with her carro, any attempt to pass triggers the proximity circuitry and the trolley veers out in a defensive action to impede your passage. If one is coming at you, be prepared to step into the road, as the combined width of LOL and carro will be equal to that of the pavement. And beware the amalgamation of carro and LOL carrying an umbrella. This is a combination with a death wish – for everyone else!

It is no coincidence that owners of supermarkets do not allow these devices within their aisles. I don’t know if there’s some health and safety reason for this, as there is for everything else we are not allowed to do in our lives these days, but this would be one I could support. The carnage these weapons of mass consumerism could cause would lead to too many injury claims for the supermarkets to allow it.

Which is why the entrance to every supermarket has an area where the LOLs park their carritos in exchange for the steel framed carro blindado that the shop supplies. I mean, we are talking serious shopping here! Although in the hands of these ninja nannies, those too seem to turn into lethal weapons, as they swarm along the aisles leaving a trail of bruised shins in their wake.

But maybe I am maligning these poor creatures. They are, after all, not in control of their existence. Like privates on the field of battle, they are at the beck and call of others. And like subordinates everywhere, they grumble.

I was standing in the queue at the checkout a few days ago. A grey-haired abuela was slowly transferring her purchases from the supermarket’s wheeled basket to the belt while simultaneously holding a conversation with the checkout girl and another LOL, who was even more slowly putting her checked items into her carro, which meant I had plenty of time to kill. Beyond the checkout a group of these carros stood patiently waiting. I swear I heard the following conversation:

“Oh dios mio”, wailed one. “Will you look at all that milk? Poor Diego. That’s going to put a strain on his wheels. I hate milk days. Those cartons are so heavy by the time we get back home I am quite exhausted.”
“Cat food”, complained another. “Those cans are no light weight. I don’t think my frame will take another load”.
“Ay! Hombre. Cat food doesn’t leak.” The carro raised its flap. “Smell that. Sour milk! Had a leaking brick a couple of days ago, and the silly old bat hasn’t noticed. I stink”.
“You think you have problems”, remarked another. “We went to the Pescadero yesterday. I’ve got the smell of fish leaking out of my seams”.
The other two carros silently sniffed. “¡Anda, joven!” the first one remarked, “doesn’t she give you a wipe out afterwards?”
“Says she can’t because of her back. Now the maldito cat won’t leave me alone. Keeps coming and licking me and cat’s tongues are so rough.”
“That’s nothing. Ours sleeps on me.”
They were interrupted by a squeaking sound. “Look out! Here comes Fernando”, one of them commented and a battered old carro joined them. “Hi Fernando”, they all chorused. “She still hasn’t oiled your wheels, then?”
“Hola amigos”, the newcomer greeted the others dismally and let out a long sigh. “What a morning I’ve had! The lift is not working in the apartment, so she bumped me down four flights of stairs. We’ve been to every shop in the street. I think one of my wheels is falling off and my insides are stuffed”. His flap quivered as he let out a small burp and there came a rumbling from somewhere deep inside. “There’s no room for anything else, but now she’s brought me here; ¡Ay de mi!”
“Diablo! Pobre! These women are brutes.”
“No es nada”, said Carlo. He had been a sleek, shiny carro of Italian design. The others had envied his fine looks when he had first shown up in the shop, but now he was looking the worse for wear. “That’s nothing”, he repeated. “My old lady is too old for the shops now. She gets her teenage grandson to do all her shopping.” He turned his front panel to the wall. “It’s so embarrassing to go shopping with a teenager. And he doesn’t care about me. He bumps me up and down kerbs, bounces me down stairs. One day he left me outside the pandearía while he was getting some bread and a dog came and, came and ….” He slumped. He couldn’t continue. His shame was just too great.
“I don’t know why humans can’t carry their own shopping”, exclaimed Fernando.
“How could they do that”, answered Diego. “They don’t have wheels. I am surprised they can move at all”.
Suddenly a human hand grabbed his handle. “Looks like I’m off Chaveros. Hey, watch this. You see that smug shop manager standing by the door. I’m going to run over his foot. With what she’s just put inside me, that’s going to hurt.”

And with that Diego trundled off to the door shortly followed by the sound of the manager screaming in agony.

That’s one small victory for a Carros de Compra. One agonising leap for a man.


  1. Great blog....but don't chastise LOLs! There are many of us around.....

  2. "Grey-haired abuela", hahahahaha, brilliant!

  3. I know this is just a lighthearted bit of writing, but why do older women automatically have to be described as 'little old ladies'? It's such a cliché. And the ones in your photos are neither particularly small, nor particularly old. They use shopping trolleys because they don't shop by car - respect to them! And why are old women always considered fair game for jokes? 'Little old ladies' and 'little old men' are not a different species, you know - they are just ourselves in a few years' time.

  4. Clichés are wonderful for writers of very short posts. It saves much superfluous writing and the reader is immediately aware of whom I write. My photos were meant to illustrate the trolleys rather than their users.
    Yes, hopefully we will all live long enough to be LOL and LOM, and I hope I have the same spirit as those I see cutting a swathe though other shoppers on a Saturday morning.

  5. These are nothing, compared with the young, grim-faced harridans with prams that infest our pavements.