Monday 16 December 2013


Walking down Dominick Street, I’m carrying a Marks and Spencer's bag in one hand and a Lidl bag in the other. Make of me what you will, oh casual observer. The Lidl bag is enormous, so does that mean I do all my shopping there?

Who cares? Maybe I have the money to shop at Marks and maybe I just want to be seen to. 
Unlikely, admittedly, that your colyoomist gives a toss about what others think about where I shop, but there are people out there ... ‘Snobs’, they used to be called.

As a tiny lad back in the 1960s, your scribbler was given a fantastic definition of snobbery. Coming from the upper echelons of the English middle classes, it was, in itself, inherently snobbish. I was told that a snob is someone who looks down their nose at someone else, when they have no right to look down upon that person.

The tacit inference therefore was that there were other people who did have a right to look down on others.

Gradually and thankfully, a snob became anybody who looked down on another, and rightly so, because to do so is unjust.

Anyway, if my shopping patterns are anything to go by, you should never judge a person by their Bags For Life. I might be dead posh and do my entire weekly grocery shop in Marks and Sparks, and equally I might fill my boots at Lidl, Dunnes or SuperValu. So why this fixation with bagly brand recognition? Well, I worked in retail for many happy years, but encountered in that industry such a level of customer snobbery that I am still to this day outraged and perplexed.

Many years ago I opened a charity shop in Galway City, and having grown up in a family of shop workers, I knew that it was important to put our brand name out there on the streets. So I ordered a batch of printed carrier bags, only to be told by my Head Office that nobody would ever carry a charity bag onto the streets of Galway.

Why not? I just couldn’t understand. Rather than an embarrassment, I thought it would earn the customer kudos, for having made a contribution to the charity.

A few weeks into the job, I realised that I been wrong and Head Office right. In fact, the situation was worse than I could ever imagine.

Several regular customers bought a good deal of clothing and then carefully folded their new belongings into Moons bags. My oh my, how I had overestimated the social conscience of Ireland. Not only did they not want to be seen to contribute to a charity shop, they needed to pretend that they’d bought their clothes in a posh one.

Snobbery, pure and simple. Sad but true. Yet these days, even though the phenomenon thrives, the word ‘snobbery’ barely exists. The predictive texting on my Nokia phone recognises the word ‘Lidl’, but not ‘snobbery.’ Yikes! The Frasier Crane snob in me suddenly feels I must have the wrong phone!

Does my blend of bags, this visual cocktail of budget and luxury retail brands, mean I’m a societal mess? Well, I’m a supermarket whore. I go where the sun shines brightly. I go where the parking is easy, the produce is fresh and the prices dandy. Good little consumer, too. Signed up to all the loyaty schemes, so that computers somewhere can whirr and crunch and try to work out what I’ll want to buy next year, in return sending me coupons offering 25c off a metric tonne of cheese strings or something else that I have no intention of buying.l

Armed with our supermarket Bags For Life, we carry our consumer colours with us as we walk the streets. In a fantastic period of social engineering, between 2002 and 2004, the Irish were used as Eurozone lab rats, tested for compliance in a series of increasingly challenging ways..

Try them out with the plastic bags, then hit them with the Euro, and if they show a suitable willingness to be manipulated, smack ‘em up with a smoking ban too.

Politically, Brussels treats Ireland similarly to the way the Tories have always dealt with Scotland: contemptuously. Without any kind of electoral base there, they have nothing to lose, so they scornfully use it as a testing ground for their least popular policies, such as the Poll Tax.

The dishonesty of the ‘Bags For Life’ moniker still irks me. When they were introduced, we consumers were all told that the supermarkets (enjoying free advertising from their names emblazoned upon the bags) would replace worn out bags free of charge.

Me hole.

Over in the UK they’re contemplating switching to Bags For Life, so BBC News ran a piece about the pros and cons of phasing out plastic bags. Their correspondent spoke to two middle class people on a provincial English street, who didn’t think it was a very good idea, because oh dear, well, you know, it’s just that change, you know, change is never a good idea, is it dear? No, thin end of the wedge, change is. Hrrrmph.

Next the BBC consulted a nutritional hygienist who advised that if you repeatedly used the same bags, there’d be an epidemic of food poisoning.

Meanwhile I was wondering whether maybe, just maybe, somebody might have pointed out to the BBC that Bags For Life are working fine on this island, their nearest sovereign neighbour right next door. Charging a nominal fee for plastic bags at the checkout transformed shopping here overnight. All of a sudden we’re rid of an awful waste and an unsightly polluter. No more plastic bags caught up trees, blocking drains and doing gordknowswhat fearful damage to wildlife.

We’ve been using these bags for years, and nobody’s died. We’ve just got a much cleaner environment. All you have to do is remember to bring the damn things with you.

©Charlie Adley

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