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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Forbidden Combination Shopping

I arrived with my trolley at the supermarket checkout and began to unload its contents onto the conveyor. It’s so useful, I thought, to be able to buy so many products in one superstore - everything from food to alcohol to pharmaceuticals to hardware to basic car accessories.

‘I’m sorry sir,’ said the checkout girl, interrupting my train of thought, ‘you’ve selected two packs of Paracetamol. I can only let you have one.’

‘Why’s that?’ I asked. ‘I like to keep one in the bathroom and one in the car. I don’t use them much, but then there’s always a pack around when I need it.’

The checkout girl looked sympathetic. ‘I understand, sir,’ she said. ‘It’s just that suicide is on the increase, and the store has a policy about not selling more than one potentially dangerous item to any customer. All shops do this now, I’m afraid.’

‘OK,’ I acquiesced as she placed my second packet of headache tablets in a cardboard box at her feet, ‘better to be safe than sorry, I suppose.’

‘Oh dear,’ she continued as she picked up the bottle of Glenfiddich 15 year old single malt whisky I had intended to purchase.

‘Is there another problem?’ I asked.

‘Alcohol can significantly reduce the lethal dose of Paracetamol,’ she apologetically explained. ‘I’m afraid I can’t sell you the tablets and the whisky.’

‘That’s unfortunate,’ I said. ‘Mind you, I don’t have a headache at the moment, and I rather like my regular nightcap of single malt whisky, so I’d best keep that.’

‘You’re very patient,’ said the checkout girl as she consigned my second packet of Paracetamol to her cardboard box. ‘Many customers would have gone ballistic by now, shouting about stupid, mindless rules that can’t possibly have any effect at all on the intentions of those who are considering suicide.’ She stopped and looked rather sheepish. ‘You want to buy a car tow-rope,’ she continued, cautiously picking up the next offending item.

‘My friend, John, has an old banger he wants to tow to the scrap yard,’ I explained, ‘so I said I would get him a new tow-rope.’

‘Sadly, ropes like this are used by people to hang themselves,’ the checkout girl explained. ‘The store management believes that those who intend to take their lives in this way might first drink alcohol to help them to go through with it. That’s why I can’t sell you the whisky and a tow-rope.’

‘I promised John that I would drop-off the rope to him this afternoon,’ I said, ‘so it’s best that I take that instead of the whisky.’

‘Thank you for taking this so well,’ she said, placing the whisky in her cardboard box. ‘I wish my brother was so tolerant. When this happened to him in another store, he was abusive to the manager and got arrested. It’s particularly difficult for those of us on the checkouts, you know. Between you and me,’ she confided, ‘everybody thinks these rules are totally bonkers but we get all the flak for having to enforce them.’

‘I quite understand,’ I said. ‘I’ve put everything on the conveyor, now. Are there any other forbidden combinations?’

‘You can’t have the rope and that carving knife,’ she said, pointing to the presentation box that contained the stainless steel implement. ‘There’s a risk of you slashing your wrists while you’re hanging yourself.’

‘Quite understandable,’ I said. ‘The knife was going to be a wedding present for my niece, and she’s not getting married for a fortnight, so I’ve got time to buy that later. I’ll keep the rope.’

The checkout girl placed the knife in her box and then looked thoughtfully at my final item. The head had detached itself from the handle of my hammer on the previous day and, as the tool must have been thirty years old, I thought my carpentry kit could benefit from a new one.

‘Don’t tell me,’ I said. ‘While I’m hanging myself, I might expedite the process by hitting myself over the head with a hammer, having been deprived of the opportunity to slash my wrists or anesthetise myself with whisky or Paracetamol.’

‘You seem to have understood this very well, sir,’ she noted.

‘I’ll just buy the rope, then,’ I said, recalling my promise to John about getting him a tow-rope today.’

‘That will be four-pounds-fifty,’ said the checkout girl.

As I left the store, I looked at my watch. There was an hour before John was expecting me. There might just be time to complete my shopping. First, however, I returned to my car and concealed the tow-rope in the boot.

There was a Lloyds Pharmacy just a few shops away in which I was able to obtain a pack of Paracetamol. A Boots pharmacy was just across the road, and so, with my last purchase carefully concealed in my pocket, I managed to nonchalantly purchase a second pack of the tablets. As I left the store, I was aware of a feeling of excitement and exhilaration. I was on a mission to outsmart a sales strategy of the entire high street, armed only with my own wit and cunning.

A branch of Wickes was nearby in which I was able to purchase a very adequate new hammer. As I approached the exit, I felt like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. Just suppose that Boots and Lloyds Pharmacy had electronically sent my CCTV photograph and details of my Paracetamol buying to Wickes, I thought. Would I be stopped and searched before I left the store and have two of my three latest purchases confiscated?

It was with some relief that I found myself safely on the street outside. I took a circuitous route back to my car so I could monitor whether anyone was following me. It seemed that no one was, so I stashed my latest haul under a blanket on the back seat of the vehicle.

Adrenaline pumping, I returned to the high street and bought my bottle of Glenfiddich 15 year old single malt whisky from a wine merchant. I even engaged the shopkeeper in conversation and appeared to be in no hurry, so as to totally allay any suspicions.

As I hid the whisky within the spare tyre of my car, I pondered on the problem of the carving knife. My niece had specified a make that I could only obtain from the first store I had visited. It was also sold there in a presentation box. I walked back to that store and furtively peered-in through the window. The girl with whom I had had the original discussion was still on till fourteen. I watched her for several minutes. Then, suddenly, she glanced at her watch and placed a “Checkout Closed” sign on her conveyor. I waited as she served her final customer. She then stood up and disappeared into the depths of the shop.

Heart pounding, I quickly entered the store and proceeded to the cutlery section. I took another carving knife in its presentation box and headed for the till.

‘Are you OK, sir?’ said the lad on the till. ‘You seem rather breathless.’

‘I’m in a bit of a rush,’ I said in as close to a calm, matter-of-fact voice as I could muster. ‘I’m late for an appointment.’

As I drove out of town on my way to John’s, I was euphoric. I had won. I had taken a shopping list to my local town and purchased the items upon it, despite the determined attempts of several shops to prevent me.

I began to ponder on the excitement and challenge afforded by “forbidden combination shopping”. Perhaps competitions could be held aimed at purchasing such forbidden combinations. Those with sufficient skills, dedication and training might attempt to buy five, ten or even fifty packs of Paracetamol from the same shop in a morning. It could even be a new Olympic sport.

Despite my initial enthusiasm for this endeavour, however, I must admit to being a little disappointed that it is not possible to buy two packs of Paracetamol from any shop in the area in which I live, unless accompanied by a psychiatrist and two counsellors to vouch for my mental state.