I arrived with my trolley
at the supermarket checkout and began to unload
its contents onto the conveyor. Its 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.
Im sorry sir,
said the checkout girl, interrupting my train of
thought, youve selected two packs of
Paracetamol. I can only let you have one.
I asked. I like to keep one in the bathroom
and one in the car. I dont use them much,
but then theres always a pack around when I
The checkout girl looked
sympathetic. I understand, sir, she
said. Its 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, Im
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.
significantly reduce the lethal dose of
Paracetamol, she apologetically explained.
Im afraid I cant sell you the
tablets and the whisky.
unfortunate, I said. Mind you, I
dont have a headache at the moment, and I
rather like my regular nightcap of single malt
whisky, so Id best keep that.
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 cant 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
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
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. Thats
why I cant sell you the whisky and
I promised John that
I would drop-off the rope to him this afternoon,
I said, so its 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. Its 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. Ive put everything on the
conveyor, now. Are there any other forbidden
You cant have
the rope and that carving knife,
she said, pointing to the presentation box that
contained the stainless steel implement.
Theres a risk of you slashing your
wrists while youre hanging yourself.
I said. The knife was going to be a wedding
present for my niece, and shes not getting
married for a fortnight, so Ive got time to
buy that later. Ill 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
Dont tell me,
I said. While Im 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.
Ill just buy
the rope, then, I said, recalling my
promise to John about getting him a tow-rope
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
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
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
Im in a bit of
a rush, I said in as close to a calm,
matter-of-fact voice as I could muster.
Im late for an appointment.
As I drove out of town on
my way to Johns, 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
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.