I said to the woman in the bristling polyester dress, "Where's the dog food, please?"
She was busy sculpting the Leaning Tower of Pisa with tins of Carnation Milk. The shop was trying to shift as many tins as it could with a competition to win a trip to Italy. I would have bought some, but they reminded me of boring Sunday afternoons with salad for tea and pear halves coated with the stuff.
"Dog food?" she said, dragging another box from the gang-way with a white plimsolled foot. She had a ladder in her tights, and one foot wrapped in a dirty bandage, standard supermarket issue. "Aisle twelve, next to the cook-in sauces."
I found the aisle with both ankles intact, although the scar on my right hand was a constant reminder to be vigilant. Down by the steak pie fillings with no fat or gristle, I was blocked by two interlocked trolleys, whose drivers were expounding the virtues of Ex-Lax.
"Excuse me," I said. "I want the dog food."
"Down there luv," answered the woman in the knitted bobbleless hat. After I passed by, she shouted after me, "buy Bounce for good VFM."
I gave her a wave of thanks in time to hear her tell her friend, "Alice takes three a day, cleared up her varicose veins like that. Well she doesn't have to strain no more."
There were twenty-seven different flavours, all guaranteed to give man’s best friend a healthy diet and added vitality. Essential, should you ever manage to find his lead and peel him off the fireside rug for a walk. I can remember when our dog had what was left on the plate. Now he had a choice of anything from beef and kidney to tuna and carrots. I spent the next ten minutes mentally organising his week’s menu so that no two flavours fell on consecutive days. Then I got to wondering. How do I know that inside the chicken and liver tin there was actually chicken and liver? All this time, I've been saying, “There you go, Boy, lamb and heart today,” and he's been thinking, Jesus Christ, cancerous beef again. I'm smiling down thinking he loves me, that dog, and he's screaming, Why don't you show a little imagination? You're not stupid -- I've seen you work the washing machine.
It was then I realised people have been telling me lies all my life. People who shouldn't have, like Doctor Butler when I had my tonsils out. I don't know if he used a knife or just sanded them down, but it was more than 'just a bit sore'. Then, the next day, they gave us Rice Krispies for breakfast! I bet they had semolina on Christopher Robin ward.
When I was in school dapper Davies said, "Right then, down the ramp onto the springboard, off the board onto the horse, then land on the mat. Easy." Easy, my foot! By the time I came round, double geography had faded into history.
Even my own mother was in on it. "You want to eat more greens," she said, "keep off the fried foods. Fried foods killed your uncle Albert." I didn't find out for years he'd been knocked over going to the chip shop.
There was nothing for it but to take home a few tins and test them for more lies. Chicken with liver and beef with marrow bone seemed like two flavours that would be easy to tell apart. I grabbed a few and went to the checkout, passing the dolphin-friendly tuna on the way. 'Not quite so friendly for the tuna,' I mused. Still, as long as the dolphins are alright...
The reason we're so concerned about dolphins is because they're smart -- cleverer than people, some say -- although in all the episodes of Flipper I watched, not once did I see him driving the boat. Perhaps he was an under-achiever, which was the total opposite to the canine enigma in The Littlest Hobo. I've seen him driving the school bus and flying a helicopter. He'd even directed a couple of episodes, which apparently inspired Alan Alda to do the same in MASH. Funny thing is, though, in all the episodes Alda directed, the plot usually revolves around a mysterious Alsation who flies in dozens of wounded GIs in a damaged chopper then helps out in the operating theatre. Afterwards, he's seen moralising over the war in the mess tent before sneaking off with Hot Lips Houlihan. There has been some suggestion that it is not all Alda's work, but Hollywood is full of rumours, so I'll wait for the outcome of the court case.
At the checkout, I doubled the cost of my groceries by asking for a carrier. "Forty-five pounds for a plastic bag!" I exclaimed. "That's ridiculous. It's robbery."
"It's to help the environment," she said. "Megamart wants the green fields of Britain to stay green."
"Except for the ones with supermarkets on them," said I, wiping that superior smirk off her chops.
"Do you want one or not?"
"Not for forty-five pounds, no."
She blew a bubble Bazooka Joe would have killed for. "That says, spend forty-five pounds for a carrier bag. It's the word spend that gives it that extra bit of meaning."
That's the trouble with checkout girls. They've got a few A levels but they don't know how to talk to people.
On the way home, I shared the 32B with seven chiropodists from Macclesfield, in town for a conference on the alarming increase in verrucae in six-year-olds. It seemed obvious to me that they were catching them from that foot bath you had to walk through before you could get in the water at the local swimming pool. There was no time to enlighten them because my stop arrived.
"Hey drive," I said, as I was getting off. "I've travelled on the 32B for ten years, and I've always wondered. What does the B stand for?"
"Bus," he said.
The dog was there when I got home. All excited because he knew I went shopping on a Thursday. I opened both tins and put the contents on separate plates before turning to give him instructions.
"Right, Jeff," I said. "I want you to sniff both these dishes but only eat the one with chicken and liver in it."
He looked up attentive, and I put down the plates. Half a minute later both plates were cleaner than a nun's toilet wall.
"Bloody typical," I thought. "A deaf dog. I specifically asked for a dog that could hear, and he sells me Jeff."
It was one more lie to add to the rest. Suddenly I realised you could only trust yourself. Even when I was younger I knew people just couldn't be trusted...