Grumpy Old Man

I have come to believe that the whole scope of what’s wrong with the human condition can be represented by the microcosm of shopping trolley behaviour. What insights into the baser human instincts can be glimpsed by the observation of how people interact with their metal transport baskets! Here are some variations for you to consider:*

[Advisory – Trolley Trolls, as far as I’ve been able to observe, are equally represented by both sexes. I have alternated the sexes in the following examples, and nothing should be read into whatever gender happens to be associated with any particular category]

The Dumper:

The Dumper has no feeling of obligation to anyone. Once The Dumper has finished with his trolley, he abandons it right at the place where the last grocery item has been removed. This is probably in the last available parking space in the supermarket parking lot, or behind your already-parked car. Does he care that you’ll need to move his trolley in order to be able to go about your business? No he does not – that’s your problem pal.

The Pig Pen:

The Pig Pen thinks her shopping trolley is a mobile trash receptacle, and abandons it along with discarded items including – but not limited to – empty crisp packets, squashed muffins, spilled McThickShakes, soiled baby nappies, empty Coke bottles, used tissues, unwanted vouchers and fliers, and half-full cups of coffee. In some cases, three or more of the above at the same time.

The Fuck You:

The Fuck You takes the trouble to return his trolley to the trolley bay, but backs it in, linking his chain to the next trolley, but making it impossible for you to attach your chain and thus retrieve your coin. This person is probably a politician.

The Fuck You and the Horse You Rode In On:

The FYATHYRIO can’t be bothered to walk all the way to the end of the trolley bay, so attaches the trolley to the chain in order to retrieve her coin but leaves the trolley outside the bay, in such a way that it protrudes into the pedestrian walkway or the traffic transit lanes.

The Plague Vector:

As soon as your hands touch the trolley handle and feel the clammy dampness of bodily fluids, you know he’s been there.

The Rally Driver:

You never see the Rally Driver in action, just the long deep scratch down the side of the line of cars on the way to her destination.

The Magellan: You live half a kilometer away from any supermarket, but there it is: a trolley abandoned in your driveway. The Magellan plainly does not have a car – hey, I’m fine with that. BUT WHY IS THE TROLLEY IN MY YARD? Why is he not doing what a sane person would do, and keeping the trolley in his own yard to wheel back to the supermarket on the next trip? ((I’ll tell you why – because he is a fuckwit, and once he abandons the trolley it’s not his problem. He can always pick up another one next time.))

The Jammer: The Jammer takes the IKEA trolley back to the Woolworths bay, and despite the fact that the IKEA trolley is a completely different shape and size to the Woolworth’s model, jams it right in there, preventing any other person from docking their trolley. Thanks jerk. ((And seriously. Shopping stores: WHY DO WE NEED DIFFERENT SIZE TROLLEYS IN THE FIRST PLACE??? For fuck’s sake. Just adopt the same fucking standard as everyone else you cretins.))

The Choker: The Choker takes her trolley almost all the way back the trolley bay, but inexplicably abandons it about three paces away. That last little effort is just… so difficult. It’s evidently the ‘near enough is good enough’ philosophy.

The Utter Bastard: The Utter Bastard removes his trolley from the bay and then, inexplicably in terms of anything rational any sane person on the planet may consider, squashes chewing gum in the coin slot of the next available trolley, preventing any further trolleys from being used. I mean, WTF? Really, WTF?

The Complete and Utter Fucking Shithead Bastard: The CUFSB finds your trolley unattended in a quiet aisle (while you’ve gone off trying to find out why polenta isn’t in any sensible place you care to look) and attaches another trolley to it in order to steal your coin. This is a minor inconvenience if you have another coin, but if you don’t it’s a right royal pain in the ass.

*Lest you think I’m having a bit of a leg pull with all this, let me assure you that I’ve personally encountered every single one of these at some stage or another. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but you never actually see anyone carrying out these acts of despicable ratbaggery – indisputably because they know they’d be up for a public flogging if they were caught in the act.

Sometimes some things just annoy the crap out of me. What is it with the daft ‘Keep Calm and [Insert Any Lame Thing Here]’ plague that stuck its head above the ramparts some years ago now and is STILL lumbering across the memetic landscape like a zombie hopped up on qualudes? Why the hell do people think this is still cool/funny/witty/whatever? In fact, why did they EVER think so?

You will no doubt have read of the Amazon ‘Keep Calm’ debacle in recent weeks, where an apparently random ‘Keep Calm’ generator designed by t-shirt vendor Solid Gold Bomb created almost unbelievably offensive slogans that actually appeared for sale in the Solid Gold Bomb Amazon shop. The mechanics of what happened have been thoroughly examined elsewhere so I won’t go into it here, other than to add the admonishment that you play with random processes at your peril.

The extreme unpleasantness of the affair notwithstanding, it seems to me that the greater crime has been left unexamined: why the fuck is anybody still allowed to sell anything with ‘Keep Calm and [Whatever]’ emblazoned upon it anyway?

As a meme it started with little value in the first place and proceeded from there on a downhill trek to banal in about the time it takes for a bunch of comedy writers to roundtable and discard a crummy routine (usually about 38 seconds, in my experience). It is a blight upon humanity and people caught perpetuating it (except in the course of exposing its lameness to the world, it goes without saying) should be incarcerated for long periods of time. No, fuck it – let’s bring back drawing and quartering.

Let’s see ’em keep calm while horses tear their limbs off.


* I mean, seriously. WHAT. THE. FUCK?


Faithful Acowlytes. I want to speak to you today about loyalty. Oh, no no no – not your loyalty dear friends. I would never call that into question. No, specifically, I’m talking about the mechanism that seems to have become an integral part of pretty much every consumer commodity transaction on the planet: the Loyalty Scheme – or Loyalty Scam, as I prefer to call it, because the concept is essentially a swindle. If you are voluntarily ((In some cases you have very little choice. Credit cards almost universally include loyalty schemes in the form of ‘reward’ points – you literally can’t not be involved in one.)) taking part in a loyalty scheme of any kind, you’re being tricked.

I must confess, I didn’t really think much about this situation until fairly recently. As many people do, I just accepted the notion as a little extra perk that you got with your shopping experience and I dutifully had my various cards swiped, stamped or checked as I went about my shopping chores. And then, one day I had an interesting experience that threw some illumination on how retailers understand the concept of loyalty.

The incident in question involved a juice place in the local shopping centre. We’ll call it ‘Joos’. I would, on occasion, buy a juice from Joos as I was passing, and one day with my purchase I was given a little card. Apparently the object was to have it stamped each time I got a juice and then I would be rewarded after my tenth stamp with a free juice! How awesome is that! If you do the sums, that’s 10% off each juice I purchased. Well, I kept the card in my wallet (crammed at that time as it was with a dozen other Loyalty cards) and eventually, after a thirsty summer ((It’s not like I frequented this place often. It was an occasional stop on my shopping trips.)) I had accrued ten juices and I went to collect on my free one.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the hip young Joos counter kid, “We don’t use that system anymore. Now we have a swipe card. Would you like one?”

“No,” said I, “I would like the free juice to which I’m entitled on account of my loyalty.”

“I can’t give you one – that system is out of date. You have to use the swipe card.”

“I see,” I said. “And when does the swipe card go out of date?”

The sarcasm was lost on her.

It got me to thinking. If Joos really cared about its customers – ALL its customers – why does it not simply mark its prices down by 10%? Surely these lower prices (at the usual Joos quality, of course) would be a big incentive to keep customers coming back to Joos! This is the sum effect of having all your customers in the loyalty scheme after all. The fact is, the reward system is nothing more than sleight of hand to make you think you’re getting value where there is none at all. Joos doesn’t care about their customers enough to pass on a substantial saving across the board, but is instead selling them the illusion that they are being faithful to the brand by making them go through a silly charade with a swipe card. They are, in effect, bribing you to be a customer. Wouldn’t it be something if customers were loyal simply because Joos was offering a great product at reasonable prices?

All loyalty/reward systems operate in the manner I’ve described above, to a greater or lesser extent. You need to keep in mind that the reduction in price conferred by these systems must be accounted for in the profit structure of the company offering them, anyway. The prices of a product have effectively been increased to offset any deficit that the reward scheme might have – in other words, the company doing the offering is selling an illusion that you’re getting a deal, when in fact they could offer you that ‘deal’ as a fairer price if they wanted to. ((There is also a level of scumminess that comes with the scamminess, as I’m sure you’ve encountered, where the ‘reward’ is somewhat underwhelming when you actually collect it. For example, my local vet sells a cat food dental product that I buy in 3 kilogram bags. “Do you want to be part of our loyalty scheme?” asked the vet assistant, when I bought my first one. “You get one free bag for every six you buy!” It sounded good, so I signed up. Imagine my disappointment when I reached the sixth bag and was given the free one – not, as I expected, a complimentary replacement for my usual 3k bag, but a miserly 500 gram one instead. Yes, technically ‘a free bag’ but really a grudging and tight-fisted swindle. Honestly, I don’t know how vendors can treat customers with this kind of contempt.)) ((Oh, and let’s not even start on Frequent Flyer points…))

So here is what I want you to do, my intrepid Cowmpanions, when next you’re out shopping and someone offers you one of these ridiculous Loyalty cards. I want you to look that person straight in the eye and say:

My dear Sir/Madam, if you want my loyalty, all you need provide is efficient, polite service and reasonable quality goods at sensible prices. If you do that, you won’t ever have to bribe me to come back to your store.

When I was a kid the most coveted material possession of school life was a set of Derwent Pencils. ((Yes, things were much simpler back then. Now, apparently, kids expect to have phones and computers and all manner of other expensive concessions and treat it all like it was simply their right. “All the other kids have [insert desired item].” It’s not an argument that ever held water when I was a child. Where on earth did this overbearing and irksome sense of entitlement come from?)) Derwents were the créme de la créme of primary school artistic tools – without Derwents, your chances of ever becoming a new Picasso or Rembrandt were vanishingly small. Derwents were, however, also quite expensive, and my family wasn’t well off, so for many years I had to make do with the much cheaper Faber Castells, and the fond hope that I could, if fate was on my side, aspire to the crazy heights of illustrating pamphlets for the ladies down at the Lilac City Festival offices.

Then, one sunny day – I don’t even think it was my birthday – my mum gave me a box of Derwents.

I was in Pencil Heaven. Just look at that chromatic spectacle of luscious luxurious pencilness! No more scratchy Fabers! Derwents spread their rich waxy hues across the paper like a rainbow rolling softly out over a coarse grey sky!

True, it was just a box of 12 Derwents – not even close to Charlie Peerbohm’s set of two million…

…but they were Derwents nonetheless, and they were mine. It goes without saying ((Just testing!)) that I took them to school the very next day, nonchalantly slipping them from my satchel and making sure I used them whenever an opportunity presented itself. I fancied that I caught envious stares from the kids still using Fabers, and I reveled in my new-found Pencil Czar status. Derwents of my very own! It was a happy day.

A short-lived happy day, as it turns out. I arrived home from school, still giddy from the day’s sheer brilliance, opened my bag… and with frightening suddenness an awful realisation closed in on me that somehow, somehow, I’d left my brand new box of Derwent pencils on the bus. Dammit! I even remembered taking them out of the bag and putting them on the bus seat. Why did I do that???! I was devastated. I ran to tell mum.

She looked at me with an expression that was completely inscrutable, and then did something that was unprecedented in my young life. My mother said:

“Oh well.”

And I knew instantly that I had irretrievably lost my Derwent pencils. That, as they say, was that. They weren’t coming back. I couldn’t blame my mum, she hadn’t lost them. And I knew it was completely unreasonable to expect her to get me another expensive set. I was angry. Not with her, but with myself. My pride was hurt and I felt cheated and powerless and stupid. And it was, indisputably, all my fault.

With the full understanding that I was very upset, my parents chose (wisely, I came to realise) not to simply buy me another box, nor to coddle me, but just to let me understand that sometimes life is shit and your only option is to deal with it.

And it set me on the road to discover that a man is a fool who takes anything for granted.

Has anyone else noticed the creeping rise of what I call the ‘I’ll Call You Back Problem’? It works like this: you go to have some kind of service performed – in my case this week, a tyre repaired on my car – and the person in charge says ‘Yep, righty-ho! We’ll have the spare-part in/forms completed/appointment time arranged ASAP and we’ll call you back!’

And you wait. And wait. And wait. Days go by. Months. even.

And eventually you call them.

‘Oh yes! No problems! The spare-part’s in/forms are completed/appointment is for next Tuesday at 2pm!’

But they didn’t call me back.

I’ve taken to asking ‘Now, you really will call me back, right?’, but don’t even bother – despite all assurances you might get, this doesn’t work either.

The very worst culprit, unsurprisingly, is Telstra. As an experiment, I’ve decide to wait for a call I was promised in January. ((relating to a non-critical matter, you’ll be relieved to know)) I’m still waiting. In a year I’m going to call them and ask why they didn’t call me back. I’m sure you’re as curious as I am to hear their response.

The day before yesterday, Cow Central was besieged by enormous thunderstorms that lasted several hours throughout the afternoon. It was spectacular and scary. I had the great idea of attempting to record the thunder – it was the best rolling, echoing thunder I’ve heard in a long time. As I set my machine into record a phenomenal tearing shriek of thunder made me jump about three feet off the ground and sent The Spawn scurrying under the house. Here’s what it sounded like:

Download KABOOM!

– only a million times louder. Whatever did that, also knocked out the power to my house and brought down my internet. My net connection is not managed by the dreaded and appalling Telstra, but instead by Optus, another of our laughable telcos. I don’t have cause to ring Optus much – generally our net connection stays up – but since I was still completely cut off from the world when I woke up yesterday morning, I picked up the phone…

Oh crap. Now they have a robot too. It’s a little more brusque than the Telstra one, and a little less obsequious, but it’s still STUPID. But not as stupid as the real life operators, it seems, when I finally got through to one…

ME: Hello – my internet connection went down in the big storms yesterday and I was wondering if you could give me some idea when it will be up again.

CANDY: ((Her real name. Or at least the one she told me)) OK. Where are you situated (I tell her). OK. I’ll check for you.

♫ …tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking and wh… ♪

CANDY: It looks like all the connections down there are affected by the storms.

ME: Yes I know that.

CANDY: On your modem, can you see a flashing light?

ME: Yes. There’s a line error.

CANDY: But is it an orange flashing light?

ME: Yes. Well, it’s a green flashing light on my modem, but yes, it tells me the line is out.

CANDY: Well that orange flashing light is the reason you don’t have internet.

ME: No, Candy, surely the reason I don’t have internet is that the line is down because of the storms. The flashing light is just an LED that tells me what’s going on.

CANDY: …….bzzzz… (I swear I could hear her brain making that kind of noise) Well, it looks like there are problems with the internet because of the big storms down there.

ME (wondering if garrotting is still a popular form of murder): Right. So, can you give me any kind of idea when the problem will be fixed?

CANDY: No, I’m sorry. When the orange light stops flashing the problem will be fixed and your internet will be working again.

Two Hours Pass.

I call again. This time the robot is unable to parse my sentence. When I try and explain that I want to talk about an internet outage, the machine doesn’t ‘understand’ me and goes through the process of trying a bunch of alternatives. It’s like playing a guessing game with a monkey. No, scratch that. It’s like playing guessing games with a lobotomized monkey.

After it finds that it can’t guess what I want, it says ‘Hmmm. I’m not understanding you.’ Jesus fucking Christ. ‘Hmmm.’??? Someone has programmed the damn thing with attitude!

I really hope they’ll eventually give it a nose, so I can punch it.

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