That damned meat aisle always gets me


A DAD'S LIFE:The meat aisle in the supermarket is where I get caught. All those special offers on steaks and artisan sausages. I want them all. You should never shop when you’re hungry, but my problem is I’m always hungry. I always want more meat.

Every December I battle against unnecessary purchases. This is the cruellest month on the Brophy family wallet. Three out of four birthdays fall in this month, never mind the minor addition of Christmas, making it almost impossible to balance heightened expectations with financial reality. And that’s only with the missus; the kids presume December is a month where gifts fall from the sky.

Family planning

With a bit of planning, I could have chosen a partner born in June and targeted the second child’s birth for spring. But families are not put together with the even spread of an annual budget as a consideration. In an ideal world they would be, but they’re not. Instead I spend the month fighting a growing chorus of “I wants” and hardening myself as the “wants” change to pleads of “I need”. I hide the Visa card. I shut down online access to Amazon. I thicken my hide and, in the face of requests for Build-a-Bears and Playmobil, I suggest going outside for a runabout, and take the blooming dogs too. The dogs look at me in distress, wondering when they can expect a little something special. A new blanket, maybe? A bone to gnaw? You’ll have great scraps, I tell them, now stop making me feel guilty with those hangy faces.

I’m strong in the face of my own family. Weak in the face of personal commercial onslaught. The supermarket gets me, that damned meat aisle.

It starts there. The butchers tenderise with tasty loins of pork and shanks of lamb and rosemary. I run, but only to grind to a halt mere steps further up the aisle, drawn by the lure of deep tubs of duck liver paté and rows of hanging salami. Stop it now, I moan inwardly, I can make do with my ham and coleslaw sandwiches, I don’t need this stuff.

But we’re approaching Christmas and somehow the retailers have sprinkled meat, and especially the festive red, rich stuff, in magic dust that gives it an added succulent gleam. A wanton, come-hither-and-sample-my-juicy-delights flavour.

I push through. Straight into cheeses. All year long I’ve been happy with mature cheddar and the occasional artery-hardening foray into Cambozola land, but now, once again, I am tested. Here’s Stilton waving a coquettish finger in my direction, and how could I be expected to go home without at least paying lip-service to a fresh Gubbeen? In truth, it would be rude not to.

Safety ahead

No. I harden once more and march on, my lone pack of Easi-Singles yelping at me from the trolley for denying it company. But I know there is safety ahead, for around the corner there is nothing but eggs and kitchen roll and even my seasonally addled mind can’t make those seem attractive.

Except, of course, this being December, the egg aisle has become the technology and hardware centre. Mr Tesco, or Lidl, or SuperValu has realised that at this time of year there will be a glut of middle-aged men forced to pad the aisles at times when they would usually be elsewhere, in such a weakened state that they may be tempted to empty their pockets for a Gaggia coffee maker, even though all they came in for was a sliced pan and a litre of low-fat.

Where once there were free-range eggs, there are now toasters alongside flat-screen televisions, wifi tablets, chrome kettles and all-you-need laptop bundles at prices you would have to be insane to resist. There are Swiss army knives, discount remote-controlled helicopters (how have I survived without one?), universal remote controls, electronic picture frames.

I see a troupe of other 30 and 40-something men hovering in varying states of fugue. Then I catch sight of tea towels – a multipack of chequered tea towels. They break the spell. Nobody, after all, really needs tea towels. I leave my trolley and dart for the door. Saved.

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