I was grocery shopping in Aldi yesterday morning.
As budget shopping goes I’ve come to really appreciate the minimalism of the place and the sometimes bizarre apparel that they sell right next to the cherry tomatoes.
If the zombie apocalypse strikes while I’m out shopping then I’d prefer to be in a grocery store that sells a full size fire axe. It will make hacking my way home through the undead infinitely less bothersome – and I’ll also arrive with some tasty provisions.
I’ll be honest though. I avoided Aldi for many years.
I used to associate it with my first serious relationship in the early 90’s where our watchword was poverty. Eating beans and frozen waffles until payday was often a depressing reality when we lived together. The people who went to Aldi when I shopped with my ex were not so great and neither was the food, which came in oddly named or generic packaging or in the case of meat often without a little window to see a representative of its contents.
Aldi has made great strides over the years though and is now my first choice for shopping based on value AND quality. My salmon comes in comfortingly clear packaging now and looks delicious.
Occasionally however there’s still a windswept and interesting individual exhibiting a unique personality. The person with colourful character traits yesterday was a woman in her mid 20’s having a heated discussion with what may or may not have been her partner.
‘Calm down!’ Her companion said quietly.
In my experience never in the entire history of calming down has the phrase ‘calm down’ ever resulted in someone calming down. This instance was no different.
‘I’ll calm down as soon as the world stops treating me differently because I have a VAGINA!!!’ said the lady in reply rather loudly.
She was about 6ft away from me. I resisted the temptation to turn and look at her. She then began to address her fellow shoppers.
‘Oh yea – NOW you’re interested!’ She said at the same volume. ‘All because I said VAGINA!!!’
I put some frozen prawns in my trolley. I’d defrosted my freezer the day before and now it was free of icebergs filling it seemed like a good idea.
Oooh haddock! That’s cheap!
I continued to ignore her as she ranted and moved the bargain fish from the chest freezer into my trolley as I looked further along the row for frozen berries.
Ironically it hadn’t occurred to me to treat or think about her any differently before her outburst – but now all I could think about was her vagina and what it had done to get her into trouble.
I must admit to at the time being quite amused by the whole incident. Her petulant and public display of outraged feminism however did little to make me sympathetic to whatever her plight may have been.
This morning though I awoke to a different reality – and the ugly spectre of sexism was writ large when I opened my eyes and checked my phone.
Going into detail in this case would be indelicate and unfair – but it brought back a lot of painful memories from my own past where a person very close to me was for a long time emotionally blackmailed into something that she absolutely did not want to do – and over the course of several years the implications of this affected and changed the course of both our lives.
I was in a somber mood therefore when I met a friend for our planned walk this morning. Despite some excellent conversation and some absolutely beautiful woodland the incident I’d learned about earlier in the morning was at the top of my mind when I left to drive home.
It was sitting there right alongside a growing anger about the fact that however much things in the world change, they also remain depressingly the same.
Back then in my past I hadn’t ultimately been able to change anything for this person. I’d felt powerless and swept along by the currents of feelings and events both before and afterwards. Today was different however and I’d offered whatever help I was in a position to give – but it still didn’t feel like enough.
Even if I could change someone else’s reality in the here and now (and I’m not sure I could) it wouldn’t stop the underlying evil of inequalty and prejudice from existing – and that was the saddest thing of all.
Some belief structures exist to perpetuate one sided power – be this race, disability, age, sex or otherwise and it’s maddening sometimes to see that not only does such blind prejudice still exist – but sometimes it gets worse.
When I was at university I studied Grace Nichols and her book ‘The Fat Black Woman’s Poems’.
I’ll be honest – at the time it wasn’t my cup of tea, and I gravitated to other works in my American fiction module that fired up my imagination. They were by male authors like John Steinbeck, Tim O’Brien and Don DeLillo.
However one phrase that my tutor used to describe Nichols’s book stuck in my mind -because at the time it began to open my eyes to a new and rather uglier reality.
‘The most disadvantaged person in society is a fat black lesbian in a wheelchair.’ she said to our seminar group.
It took a while for the gravity of this depressingly true statement to filter in. The prejudice that I read about in books wasn’t just something that had happened in the past – it was alive and well in the present day. At the time my aforementioned history was my present day and bit by bit that phrase came to mean more and more as I watched the resolve of the person close to me get slowly chipped away until it crumbled and ultimately failed altogether.
Sometimes little seems to have changed – except that we can probably now amend the statement (given the increase in religious fundamentalism and ever growing intolerance in both the west and east and from multiple religions) to:
‘The most disadvantaged person in society is a fat black lesbian in a wheelchair wearing a hijab.’
Brexit in the UK doesn’t seem to be helping to heal racial and ethnic divides – and I despair at the capability of our world (I’m looking at you Donald Trump) to talk about building walls, finding enemies behind every bush and demonise entire cultures because of the beliefs of violent and despicable minorities.
I’m sure in another 10 years time I will be able to add another identifier to the list – and the burden for that poor made up woman will grow yet heavier. Maybe it will be communism again – who knows?
I don’t claim to have insight into every nuance of intolerance – nor have I experienced it all, understand it all – or know everyone else’s pain.
But I can try to empathise with those that I know.
I’m a human being and I know what it’s like to be descriminated against. I know what it’s like to feel bullied and weak and apart from society – yet I am theoretically at an advantage by being the owner of a penis, having white skin and coming from a secular first world ethnic group and society.
If it feels crap in my shoes when I’m abused by a passing transit van it must feel a million times worse for that fictional occupant of the wheelchair. Especially when you heap all the other burdens (such as motherhood) on top.
I hope that tomorrow I wake up in a different world.
Although I probably won’t.
In the meantime I have to try and look around me for positivity and take the time to appreciate beauty and goodness wherever I find it.
Today I walked around Hay Wood with my (male) friend. It was a lovely, peaceful free walk, where we both took the time to stop and look at the world, stroke moss, examine tree stumps, marvel at the huge variety of fungi, squirrels, birds and proliferation of LIFE.
Then in the afternoon I strolled to the cinema, at my leisure, under my own steam, and sat watching a film with my shoes off in a largely empty, comfortable auditorium.
It’s true that I don’t often appreciate the freedoms I take for granted.
Today Internet, as I looked at the woodland and sat enjoying my film I really really did.