Shopping with Space Cadets


Fatherhood and Parenting
Author Richard Glover

Fancy a pleasant Saturday morning shopping with the tin-lids? Richard Glover tells a story that captures the special wonder that is shopping with children.
“All the jobs, done in one day. We'll knock off the lot,” says Jocasta as we drive towards the local Mega Mall, the kids already fighting over who gets to hold the shopping list.

We're going on a journey, as many people have before us. For instance: Dante.

9am: We're in Ikea, and already the Space Cadet is swinging on a hat stand called Klug. All the products have these insistently Swedish names.

The couch is called Toj, the desk is Brok and the lamp is Blag names that all sound like members of ABBA. Hopefully, I'll soon have my bum in a Bjorn, and my feet in a collapsible Frida.

9.20am: We need a lamp for the lounge, and compare the five on offer the Tovik, Skimpa, Bodge, Blag and Barf. These are not the sweet sounds of home-making. These are the sounds of gastro-intestinal distress. Finally, Jocasta asks the sales assistant if she can have a Barf. But the Barfs are all sold out.

9.30am: I prise The Space Cadet off a tent called Pog and chase him and Batboy out of the Store. Jocasta and I discuss the way, in 1996, all our society's virtues have been turned into product names. Praise is a margarine, Kindness is a soap. And now, like Nelson Mandela, we must begin our long walk to Freedom.

9.40am: We stumble into Freedom. It's a store with no Swedish connection, yet the names still sound like Terge and Flurg. Is this the cultural cringe? Why not a couch called Barry, an umbrella stand named Tony, or, for that matter, a poof called Adrian? We proceed to the lighting section.

While Freedom may light the path ahead (especially in the outdoors section), it cannot tastefully light our lounge.

9.50am: Depression setting in. In quick succession, we visit Suzie's World of Lights, Mr Lighting, and the Light Master. All have well developed ideas of style and restraint: ideas derived from those of Mr Elvis Presley, Los Vegas circa 1969.

10.10am: “We'll give up on the lamp”, says Jocasta, grumpily, and so we move onto Item 2 on the list: the birthday presents for the boy and girl in Batboy's class.

10.30am: Visit Toys U Buy, Mr Toys, and World of Crap. Large quantities of extruded plastic crap has been packaged into brightly coloured boxes, helpfully coded as to gender. Everything in store, however small, appears to cost $29.95. Except for the stuff that costs $149.95. Purchase 2 kilos of blue crap and 2.5 kilos of pink crap. Load into car.

10.40am: Item 3: a chest of drawers for The Space Cadet. Naturally, we head straight for Cheap and Nasty World. (“The store where the repayments always last longer than the product”).

Everyone here is exactly our age, with exactly two kids and no money. We're all hoping that by the time this stuff falls apart, we'll be able to afford better. Looking at both the products and the customers, this seems unlikely.

We buy 35 kilos of flat-pack chipboard, which has been vaguely glued together into the shape of drawers.

11.29am: We leave Cheap and Nasty World (“where we're confident to stand on our reputation but never our tables”) and get caught in a surge of people.

It's a river of parents and hungry children, all marching towards Mr Hamburger World. We end up at the counter and place our orders.

Somehow, it reminds me of Cheap and Nasty World and Toys 4 Profit. The food is pre-digested, extruded, portion controlled. It's soft and easy to chew, almost as if someone has already digested it.

Suddenly, mid-hamburger, I have a moment of insight: if you analysed the molecular composition of this food, it would be one or two chemical numbers off being actually pre-digested. Off being, well, poo.

Which is worrying, since one day there'll be a change in the factory's electrical current, some glitch in the computer, and we'll open our polystyrene boxes to be greeted by…

12.00am: The kids are depressed, and so are we. Somehow Batboy talks us into a visit to Time Waste-zone, the game arcade. Apparently, if you spend $20, you may very well win a piece of plastic crap.

Batboy and I have a go on the skiing machine, which is in its way quite amazing. There's a video screen, and skis and stocks. For $2, it is a little bit like skiing.

Just like Batboy's furniture is a little bit like furniture.

And the plastic crap is a little like a real toy.

And the hamburger is a little like real food.

And the lights are a little like something with beauty.

Which brings us back to Dante. Like him, we're now ready to go home. Travelling back, through all seven circles of the modern world.

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