Some teenage kid walking down the road, a can of fizzy drink in his hand, swinging it back and forth, and he’s not even sipping it. What do you think of that? It’s the kind of thing that would really wind up my father. It was something about the can of drink specifically. You’re driving down a narrow street and pull in to let another car pass you. The driver fails to thank you in any way – no brief wave, no flash of the headlights, nothing. They don’t even make eye contact. What do you think of that? Some drivers, in my experience, become instantly enraged, and so do many passengers, on behalf of the person who is driving them. Neither of these things bothers me too much. If I see someone walking down the road carrying a can of some soft drink, not even sipping at it, I am unmoved by it and am reminded of how much it irritates my father.
Back in the summer, on holiday with my brother in Spain, I learnt about something that really irritates him, enough for him to mention it before we saw an example of it. In the local supermarket (a Mercadona) the shopping baskets are different from those in most English shops. There is a regular short handle so you can carry the basket by hand and there’s also a long handle, and wheels underneath. When the basket is full you can wheel it, pulling it along behind you. Before that you would probably carry it, as you would with your usual English shopping basket. Our local Poundland has this style of basket-trolley hybrid but Waitrose, Sainsbury and M&S do not. What really irritates my brother is the sight of a grown man (a grown man, mind) pulling an empty shopping basket behind him. We made sure that there was always at least 10kg of shopping (large bag of spuds, 4 x 2-litre bottles of mineral water, a bottle or two of Casera lemonade, that sort of thing) before we would even think of placing the hand-held basket on the floor to make use of its wheels. I was amused by the effect on my brother of seeing “some random guy” (a phrase he would never use) pulling an empty basket along, but didn’t share his irritation.
I have my own pet peeve, though, and it’s also based on shopping baskets. My regular trips to Waitrose (documented here last year) do not require the use of a trolley on wheels. A hand-held wire shopping basket, with its two plastic-covered wire handles, is all I need. These baskets are designed to stack easily, as long as both handles are opened out flat, one at each end. If one of the handles is resting across the middle of the basket you cannot stack another one on top of it. Repeatedly, more often than not, the person in front of me has placed their basket on top of the stack with one of the handles resting across the middle. Having loaded my shopping onto the conveyor belt I assume, naively, that I’ll be able to slot my basket into the stack of others one-handed, but no. I have to use two hands, one to straighten out the handle and the other to drop the basket into the one below, a much less straightforward manoeuvre. This is the regular, minor irritation that bugs me most often, the equivalent of the can of drink being swung back and forth by some teenage kid that so annoys my father.
My son regularly accompanies me on my Saturday morning trips to the supermarket. He usually wants a can of fizzy drink and I usually allow him one, maybe a San Pellegrino flavoured water like the one sitting beside my laptop right now. It says Limone & Menta, “Sparkling Beverage with 16% Fruit Juice and Mint Infusion”. Very nice. I allow him to carry his can of drink, swinging it back and forth as we walk down the High Road, barely sipping from it. We joke about it, reflect on how unaffected I am by this sort of thing, but that he’d better not let his granddad see. However, if he left the handle of a shopping basket carelessly positioned so that nobody could slot another one on top of it, that would be something else entirely.