Thanks - but no thanks!

By Elaine James

The knarled, twisted tufts of root are still caked in sandy, red earth - grains clearly stuck fast in the crevices and knots, pressed against the clear, tight plastic wrap. I absent-mindedly toss the celeriac toward my trolley.
"Sh**- oh, sorry, excuse me" I mumble as the slippery ball escapes my grasp, hits the floor with a dull thud and rolls away along the aisle. Sighing I crouch down, rummaging on the floor beneath bemused and slightly irritated Saturday afternoon shoppers. I’m painfully aware my neck is reddening with embarrassment.


Securing the transparent wrapped globe, I breathe in, stand up, straighten my hair and deposit the offending vegetable safely into the shopping trolley.


"Bloody plastic." I curse under my breath, turning towards the fruit stand after flashing a false smile at the woman next to me.


"Fresh fruit - yeah, that'll be right" the voice in my head continues. "Maybe fresh two weeks ago, torn from the tree by exploited, underpaid women and underage children. Force-grown, sorted, graded, sized, stuffed into tight shrink-wrapped packaging, chilled, paletted, trucked, shipped, flown, re-trucked, thawed and eventually dumped here on the supermarket shelves. Finally abandoned in their hygienic, hermetic, suffocating wrap, inviting us to "Ripen at home". The final insult. More like "rock-hard to mush in six hours once exposed to normal temperature." 


"Why? And why do we accept it?" I fume, surveying my trolley full of supposedly "healthy" produce glistening in their clear plastic coffins. "We're as processed as the produce. That's why. Pathetic. It's time someone made a stand."


"Can I help?" The young till assistant beside me enquired politely.


Realising I'd spoken out loud I reach into my basket and brandish the plastic encased celeriac.


"Yes you can actually. I really don't need my fruit and veg plastic-wrapped thank you. I'm perfectly capable of peeling and washing as necessary."


I begin striping off the offending cellophane. Grains of earth and soil shower onto the conveyor belt. A flashing red light and loud beeping noise is immediately triggered above the til station.


"Oops, sorry." I lie, warming to the task while tearing into a bag of carrots, releasing them onto the now stationary conveyor. "Perhaps you could just weigh them and charge me per kilo, please."


"Is there a problem, madam?" The manager steps up behind me, surveying the steadily increasing pile of loose vegetables. Parsnips, leeks, courgettes, broccoli, potatoes. Behind us a queue of mildly interested customers begins to builds up.


I realise I'm really quite enjoying this, as a fleeting memory drifts up from my past. A memory of me, making a stand for what I believed in; making folk notice. 


"Oh, I see," the manager continues, "you're one of them. Feel free madam, it'll just go in the bin. 'Eco-strippers' we like to call you. You'll need to strip off a bit more than that to make folk take notice, make a stand."  


He turns and walks away with a self-satisfied swagger. 


Realising with disappointment there isn't going to be a fight, several of the expectant shoppers stifle sniggers while others begin shuffling and grumbling impatiently behind me. 


Tears prick my eyes as I briefly see myself - middle-class, retired, greying woman standing forlornly at a suburban supermarket till, confronted by a jumble of unwrapped produce. A crinkled mass of used plastic shortly to be relegated to the bin before adding to the global landfill. Then, again, it appears, that hint of a memory, the moment from the past, my past. Posters, banners, chants, standing together in the wind and rain, united in the cause, passionately believing. Long-haired, torn jeans, holding hands, sharing a smoke, the boy in the grubby duffle coat. Making a stand, making folk notice. 


Emboldened, I straighten my back and lift my head. Keying my card number into the machine I gather the shopping into my linen bags and turn my trolley to the door.
Sauntering past the manager, who is now eying me somewhat suspiciously, I pause a moment and smile.


"Thank you – not for your plastic, just for your advice." 


Once an eco-warrior, now an eco-stripper. I think it's time to make a stand, make folk notice again. 


Inwardly giggling to myself as I approach the door I unbutton my blue tailored jeans and step, elegantly, out of them. I slip the floral tunic over my head. It wafts satisfyingly out of my hands carried by the wind behind me as I stride proudly across the car park. The gentle sunshine warms my skin. 


Reaching my car, I haul the oddly shaped, bulging bags of unwrapped veg into the boot and slam the lid shut. I feel quietly satisfied with myself today. Made folk notice, made a stand.


I open the passenger door, step inside.


Okay. Yes, I am in fact still fully clothed. But I grin at the thought of what I could have done. Could have got arrested too. I laugh as I turn the ignition.


After all you’ve got to start somewhere. Naked celeriac seems as good a start as any. 


There's always next week.....


everyday rebellion, identity, memory