Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Onions and Cabbages

This week, my toddler is mostly obsessed with cleaning his teeth and onions.

The two aren't related. It's not the eating of onions he's interested in, it's the purchasing of them. He only wants to eat raisins, Rice Krispies and peas.

Last week, we went to the local shops for local people in a nearby town. After we'd visited the friendly butcher (that sounds like an oxymoron, but I think it only applies if you're a pig) and the bakery, it was a fair walk for a barely two year old to walk to the grocer's shop. He managed it, his only complaint being that there were really fewer puddles than he would've liked.

When we got to the grocer's shop (which is also the pet shop), the lady behind the counter was serving someone else. This mainly involved finishing the transaction by manipulatively withholding the customer's change (tantalisingly held over the customer's open hand, but with fist firmly closed) until she had finished what she wanted to say.

"Oh yes, he's got weeks left. WEEKS. That's all. I thought you knew, I did!" she exclaimed dramatically.

The customer squirmed slightly.

"Yes, it was Mick what told me. I saw him a few weeks ago, you know, he came in here for two pound of carrots and he was fine. FINE! I just hope he's not a cabbage, like. I said to our Tommy, I just hope he's not a cabbage, didn't I Tommy?"

A tall man in the corner nodded gravely.

The customer looked still more uneasy, as if she were perhaps wondering whether her change was really worth it after all.

"It's a shame, it is. Real shame. Such a shame." opined the lady behind the counter.

The man nodded in agreement again.

"Awful, isn't it?" she asked her customer.

"I'm sorry," said the customer, slightly tremulously and with a certain amount of dread, "But I'm afraid I still don't know who you mean."

The lady behind the counter, clearly disappointed by the lack of dedication to local knowledge displayed by her customer, finally let the change drop from her iron grip and allowed her prey to walk free to continue her shopping unhindered by tales from Death Row.

Meanwhile, my toddler had chosen our produce. As many onions as he could hold.

The lady behind the counter eyed him speculatively and asked "Is that a boy or a girl?"

"A boy." I replied, wondering why there was any confusion and why it mattered anyway.

"I see. Well don't let him touch the tomatoes then." she warned mysteriously, before weighing and bagging up our onions, and other items that I'd managed to sneak in on the pretext that the onions needed some friends for the drive home.

The rest of the transaction was completed in silence. I clearly didn't look as if I knew the Man With Weeks To Live. Not that that was an essential attribute, it seemed.

When we left the shop to walk back to the car, my toddler decided he was tired and needed to be carried, now that I had the maximum number of shopping bags to carry as well. I wondered why I never have the intelligence to bring the pushchair, even though this happens every single time.

When we reached the car, I realised what I'd forgotten to buy at the grocer's.

A cabbage.

Somehow, I wasn't really very upset about it.


  1. What a joy to read. Who knew village life could be so tantalising (that's coming from a self-confessed city girl). Can't wait for your next instalment! Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you. You mean don't get this kind of personal service in city shops, where you find out how long the other customers have to live?

  3. customer service in singapore goes like this...
    me (on phone to bank): 'my atm card doesn't work, can i order a replacement please'
    bank person: 'you want loans department, i transfer you, ok'
    m: 'no thanks, i don't want a loan, i want a new card, it doesn't work'
    b: 'sorry sir, your car not work, you need a new car, i thought you need loan, lah, you mean you want insurance?'
    m: 'no, that's car with a d on the end, i need an atm card'
    b: 'oh see lah, do you have an account with us?'
    m: 'i do indeed, in fact that played a key part in my decision to call this particular bank to request to replace the card i currently have, which you issued'
    b: 'oh, see lah, you want extra card'
    m: 'no, just a new card. a replacement card. please. if at all possible'
    b: 'cannot lah'
    m: 'oh, why cannot?'
    b: 'must go to branch'
    m: 'i'm too busy'
    b: 'can i help you with anything else today?'
    m: 'what do you mean, you haven't helped me with anything yet'
    b: 'sorry sir, don't understand'
    m: 'don't understand what?'

    ...anyway it gets even more boring and so i closed by exacting a mild revenge on the bank for wasting my time. i played a 5 minute innings of what i call the '2 and 3' game. taking advantage of the singaporeans' inability to discern the numbers 2 and 3 when spoken, i asked to check my balance, while pretending that the account number was 232-32323232. you kind of have to hear this to appreciate it but it turns the bank person into a sort of binary random number generator.

  4. This is excellent!!!

  5. ah ha, the original of the now infamous "onions and cabbages". The book arrived the other morning and the urge to dive straight in and read from cover to cover was only superceded by the need to flick through and locate the brilliance that is "onions and cabbages" - though I still maintain that Dumbledore would also have been a most excellent choice.