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July 2008 - The Silly Old Bag

The longest day, The Wimbledon Championships and that almost annual binge down at Worthy Farm are all in the midst of occurring as I sit down to write this month's epic; and serve to remind me that dear old 2008 appears to be just about half done.

As something of a prelude, as it just happens to have come to mind, what exactly IS the matter with the word 'Wimbledon', I wonder?  Have you noticed that all the broadcasters appear to have banned their staff from uttering the word and, this year, everyone has to refer to just SW19, rather than the actual name of said leafy suburb?

Perhaps we mustn't use it because the government have allocated it as some sort of code word, a bit like Big Ben striking thirteen, which is designed to set off some top secret international plan?

My goodness, do you think that by actually using the word, up in that first paragraph, I've let loose hundreds of special agents, all armed with radioactive umbrellas, to go and do dastardly deeds on my behalf?  Flippin' 'eck, wouldn't that be exciting?

Perhaps they're all on their way, at this very moment, to plunge their plutonium coated tips into the leg of that silly fellow who thinks he's the 'President' of Southern Rhodesia?

Anyway, that's the first digression of the July edition safely out of the way.  I bet you weren't expecting one quite that early on, were you madam?  There you are, you see, never one to be predictable, this Nick Harvey.

So, as we gently slip from the first into the second half of the year, time to be polite once again and welcome you all along to this portion of perfect prose which is Nick Harvey's Comment.

And time to welcome Mr R of Wales to his new, promoted, position in the front row of the audience.  Following his extremely speedy communication to the Correspondence Column last month, we've moved him out of the third row, so he doesn't keep going home smelling of cheap scent from the beige cardigan next door.

Mind you, I'm not certain from which part of Wales Mr R actually hails, I think it's somewhere above the middle; so there's quite a possibility that he's still next door to a Cardigan, but one with a somewhat larger 'C'.

Anyway, enough of all this preamble nonsense.  Having been polite and welcomed you all, you're now all waiting for me to announce the subject for in depth analysis under the Nick Harvey, Acme microscope this month, aren't you?

Now, Mr R and I, no madam, this isn't another digression, I'm coming to the point, honest, Mr R and I share membership of a certain internet forum where the discussion prompting this month's subject has already been going on to some degree.

This discussion has been on the subject of old bags.  No, it's all right madam, not those wearing beige cardigans, those which, for part of their lives at least, contain goods purchased at your favourite, local supermarket.

We're all being told to go green, aren't we?  We're being told to abandon the old style, use once and throw away type, of plastic carrier bag in favour of these brand new jobbies which, apparently, you can use over and over again.

Now, I'm sure I can remember my Mum having one of these jobbies about sixty years ago.  She just used to call it a shopping bag and, believe it or not, she managed to use it for all sorts of purchases which were nothing to do with a supermarket, or the grocer's, as she would have described it at the time.

She might have put a little cheese in there from the grocer, but then she could add a cabbage from the greengrocer, next door; but then she'd get really brave and put a pair of shoes in there as well, when she collected them from the cobbler's, with some nice new heels.

That, by the way, for the grammatically challenged amongst you, is the shoes which had the nice new heels; the cobbler may, or may not, also have had nice new heels, but that particular item of information isn't essential to this month's plot in any way.

So, you see, these nice, new, reusable bags aren't really nice and new at all.  They've probably been going strong ever since the art of shopping was originally invented.  Stone age woman probably took her reusable shopping container with her when she popped down to the corner cave to buy a lump of flint.

So why has our 'Supreme Leader', as I note The Eye have now christened him, suddenly decided to decree that we've all got to go green with a brand new invention that was actually around a few millennia ago?

Oh, and while we're on the subject of the 'Supreme Leader', yes madam, I'm afraid this one might just be another real digression, did any of you catch what he's now decreed that all employees must be called if they're engaged in any work to save the planet?  'Green collar workers' is what dear old Gordy's brain has managed to come up with!

Actually, it won't have been his own brain that was responsible, will it?  It was no doubt thought up on his behalf, either by some highly specialised team of spin advisors or by a specially convened, at huge expense to the tax payer, think tank.

'Green collar workers' indeed!  It really does sound like the term for something unpleasant that you'd step in on the pavement, doesn't it?

But anyway, let's get back to the bags, shall we?  I understand the brand new name for these brand new bags is 'bag for life'.  What rubbish!

Even my dear old Mum must have had at least half a dozen shopping bags during the best part of the hundred years that she was around.  Okay, she might not have done an awful lot of shopping in her first three or four years; and I remember her resorting to one of those lovely trolleys for the last three or four; but she would certainly have managed to wear out more than one bag in the period of shopping intervening.

Now, although I've absorbed most of the advertising campaign for these 'bag for life' jobbies, I have to admit that I've, thus far, failed in my duty to you, dear viewers, to complete the full background investigation into the things.

If they call it a 'bag for life', then, if it falls to pieces after the first fifty years of very heavy use, will they replace it completely free of charge and without obligation, I need to know?

And if they don't, then what legal recompense do we have against the trader from whom the item was originally purchased?  I think I need to pop down to Trading Standards to find out exactly where I stand, should I be standing, unexpectedly bottomless, with groceries strewn all over the pavement.

It is clear, under the old regime, that no responsibility whatsoever can be accepted by the retailer providing the free plastic carrier bag, should it suddenly become bottomless at any point between the checkout and the shelf next to the fridge in my kitchen at home.

Let's face it, that's exactly why we currently put our, highly valuable, 3.99 bottle of Cotes du Rhone Villages in one of their free carrier bags, which we then put in a second of their free carrier bags, which we then put in a third of their free carriers bags, for additional safety on the way home.

But what of a purchased 'bag for life'?  Responsibility must surely fall with the vendor.  Even if he only vends at a nominal rate, something like three pence, he still becomes liable under the Sale of Goods Act and the item must be totally fit for purpose.

If the purpose of the item is so clearly defined as being a 'bag for life', then that is exactly what it must, damn well, be fit for.  Do you not agree, madam?

If somebody goes to the trouble of purchasing a 'bag for life' next Thursday, then in October 2062, as they are being transported on the magnetic conveyor from the checkout to their home pod, the bottom of the bag disintegrates, throwing their 182.99 bottle of Cotes du Rhone Villages to the ground and smashing it, then who is going to pay the consequential loss bill?

The answers to this, and many other questions, need be found and clarified before we can progress very much further down this particular road, I feel.  I can't help thinking that this whole baggy idea is another of those thrust upon an unsuspecting public long before it has been fully and properly thought through.

It appears to just be the supermarkets jumping, like lemmings, onto this green, but not necessarily pleasant, bandwagon without really considering what they're getting into.  After all, they don't exactly fight shy of popping a large lump of their advertising onto the sides of the things, do they?

If your particular bag happens to be from Morriburys, for example, then one would hope, that they would hope, that when you're standing there on the pavement or the magnetic conveyor, with all your expensive purchases broken and spewed all over the ground, that it would NOT be their particular name displayed to the assembled populace as the purveyor of such an imperfect receptacle.

But, after all this time, to return to the internet forum, of which I spoke much higher up the page, the discussion on there was about how much, if any, brand loyalty was being cultivated by the supermarkets by selling their 'bags for life' at such low prices.

If you've bought a cheap Sainsco bag, will you always go back to shop in Sainsco?  If your bag bears the Tesmart legend, will you always return to Tesmart for your weekly shop?

The consensus of opinion appeared to settle on "probably".  That, however, was except for dear old Nick Harvey, who, just in case you've never noticed before, has this rather perverse streak.

I was the individual who used to have lots of those green boxes from one particular store's 'scan it and pack it yourself' scheme, yet also used to take them into the other chain's store and ask the checkout operator to put all my stuff into them as it were scanned.

The same ought to happen with 'bags for life'.  Go and get a nice one from Asd-op and then rush over to Walsons to get it filled up.  After all, the Walsons employees ought to be extremely nice to an, obvious, ex-Asd-op customer and try to entice them to stay shopping at Walsons forever.

Well, that's the theory, anyway.  Though, if my previous experience of being courted to move from one supermarket to another is anything to go by, it's probably got about as much credibility as the theory that said that the world is flat.

If I ever get the time to get round to all that additional research which I said I'd failed to quite manage as yet, then I promise I'll report back to you with all the further details.

Now, before I leave you for this month, I suppose I'd better explain something of the reasoning behind putting those quote marks around every occurrence of the phrase 'bag for life'.

You see, I was always told that you should enclose anything which might not actually exist in said quote marks; and I have to say that I think a real bag for life is about as likely a phenomenon as the 'President' of Southern Rhodesia having just won an election.

So there we are, then, dear viewers.  Something of a mammoth edition this month, if my little word counter down a the bottom of the screen is to be believed.  Well, this Nick Harvey chap, he does go on a bit, once he gets going, doesn't he?

Time to make my exit, now, I think, immediately after reminding you all to be back, promptly, on the first of August for the next load of old cobblers, with or without nice new heels.  Oh, and Mr R, could I possibly trouble you to nudge the beige cardigan on your way out, she seems to have nodded off again.  Right, I'm off, where's me shopping trolley?

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