We don't have a car. We live in the middle of a city and don't like driving, so there's no point really. The closest guaranteed parking space to most places we want to go is our own driveway. We might get soaked walking to the sports centre if it's raining but when we get there, we've had enough exercise to allow us to turn around and come straight home - thus saving both time and money. We can also look annoyingly smug on any occasion someone starts talking about carbon footprints.
Not having a car does reduce out shopping options, however. When buying groceries, I like to go in person to squeeze the produce and spot the weekly bargains. Whenever I've tried ordering food online, I've found it time-consuming, frustrating and strangely unsatisfactory. This means that, without a car, I'm limited to a selection of small, local supermarkets. They stock everything we could possibly need but their merchandise isn't hugely varied. Pasta comes in three shapes, two sizes of packet and one colour. The main choice involved with fish is whether it's coated in batter or breadcrumbs. Pears are available in two varieties - 'Take It' or 'Leave It'.
That said, having grown up on a diet of the sort of dubious stew reserved for those families with a cattle herd and a desire to cut down on veterinary bills, I'm not too fussed. Besides, even after fifteen years of living in town, having any shops at all within walking distance is still something of a novelty.
I did have a glimpse of how much more is possible the other day, though. Since the school holidays have been dragging on a while now, I made an effort to get the kids out of the house. I decided we'd go for a long hike and investigate the huge superstore that lies just beyond the normal reaches of our travels.
The children weren't thrilled at the prospect, complaining for most of the way. It was too hot and too far. Why were we going anyway? Where was it? What did we need? Why couldn't I go on my own once Mummy was home? What was...?
All at once the whining stopped. It was a long time since we'd been and, as we entered, we were transfixed. It wasn't merely huge, it was enormous - a veritable cathedral of consumerism. The aisles were so long that the curvature of the Earth meant we couldn't see the far ends. Every inch was crammed with brightly coloured packets of tastiness. There were 503 types of pasta and I couldn't find the pears amongst all the tubs of fruits so exotic that I didn't know their names.
There was choice beyond the bounds of my imagination.
Oh, and as an added bonus, every so often the stacks of delicious treats were interrupted by a shelf of toys or electronics.
We wanted to buy everything. It was like we'd peeked from behind the Iron Curtain and found ourselves staring into the window of McDonald's. Ronald himself was beckoning to us, holding out a heaped tray of Big Macs and the biggest cup of fizzy nectar we'd ever seen...
I couldn't help wishing the store was closer to home or perhaps even that we had a car. Then I could have stocked up any time on any number of delicacies from jellied Bolivian fruit bats to spiced Malaysian crab bites. My eyes glazed over and I stumbled forward like a zombie, mesmerised by the bounty laid before me.
Then I stopped. For some reason, I wasn't going anywhere. I looked down. My basket was already too full to lift. The kids had taken advantage of my distraction to pile the thing high with sweets, chocolate biscuits and small, plastic effigies of Dora the Explorer.
I was suddenly very glad we don't have a car. I've always thought that the maintenance costs and lack of exercise would make me poor and fat. I was wrong. It's the amount of luxury shopping we could fit in the boot that would do it. Witnessing the basket at my feet made me see the truth of that. I didn't dare think what value of fattening foodstuffs we could have packed into a trolley and then stuffed into the back of a people carrier.
I forced the children to return all their finds to the shelves and we settled on a single bag of pear-flavoured spaghetti (in breadcrumbs) as a souvenir of our trip. Then we walked home.
...but I didn't get wet. The water merely evaporated the moment it touched my happy, righteous glow...
Yours in a woman's world,