Shelf life

Cereal, butter, pasta, chutney, relish…The supermarket list is long. Very long. And it’s my turn to push the trolley, to walk the bright fluorescent aisles, to face shelf after shelf after shelf. It’s my turn to pay the price.

“I’m going to need my Geoff Blethyn T-shirt,” I say, not just to myself, but to the kitchen walls and the loungeroom carpet and the seventeen steps of the staircase.  To the car keys, to the shopping list. To the family too, who may or not have heard me as I went and changed.

It is a midweek night, about 25 degrees. My 16-year-old son Reuben and I start in the dairy aisle, where the temperature has dropped about 15 degrees. No matter, though. The long-sleeved grey T-shirt is keeping me warm, Geoff’s big right thigh kicking another goal for the Bombers, circa 1972. (He kicked 107 that year.)

Two plain yoghurts for Julie. Two French vanilla yoghurts for Jesse. Fetta cheese. Haloumi. Brie for Reuben. Four tubs of butter/margarine/yellow bread-spread.

Reuben and I turn the first corner, away from the Aisle of Chill. Dips and dry biscuits and more cheeses to the left. Chocolates and other sweets to the right. I’m dazed by the lighting, by the shift in temperature, by the vast array of choice. But Reuben knows the ropes. He knows his way. I stand pushing the trolley, lost in shelves of sweets and savouries.

Geoff Blethyn played for Essendon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He wore black glasses. He kicked lots of goals. At the same time. In 1968, aged just 17, he kicked four goals in the losing Grand Final against Carlton. Half the Bombers’ score. I barracked for Essendon. I wore glasses. I kicked goals – in my dreams mainly, but sometimes in the schoolyard, in the backyard, up at the local oval. I can’t say I’d given Blethyn a great deal of thought these past 40 or so years. But I’d never forgotten him. And then a guy in Hobart called Chris Rees designs a series of T-shirts about ‘1970s footy enigmas’.  So, last year, for the first time ever, I make a Father’s Day request.

Reuben and I turn into the cereal aisle. I start to relax. I love cereal. Cardboard boxes full of sugar. Cereal and the back pages of the paper – that’s all you need sometimes. Most of the time. Four boxes of multi-grain Vita Brits for all of us. Two boxes of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes for the boys. Two bags of toasted muesli for me. Two boxes of Sultana Bran Flakes for the heck of it. The trolley’s filling and if it wasn’t for my son’s diligence I’d just keep going til the trolley was overflowing.

We turn another corner. Me and Reuben and Geoff.  An elderly man approaches, pushing his trolley like he’s pushing a walking frame. There’s nothing at all in his trolley but look a little closer and you might find widowhood and memories and sadness and dreams and hopes and fears and breath.

Bread, wraps, taco-shells. Lime juice cordial. Tinned peaches. Reuben keeps the show on the road. The elderly man shuffles down the aisle.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a footy T-shirt that’ll get you through an hour in the supermarket of life. It might be a fragment of a song (even of supermarket muzak). It might be an image from a film, a line from a book. It might be a wave just before it breaks. It might be the smell of rain just before it falls. It might be a kiss, or more. And it might be a footy T-shirt.

Pasta, pasta sauce, pesto. Toothpaste, tissues, toilet paper. Frozen peas. But we can’t find relish or chutney (not that I’ve ever known the difference). There’s always something on the shopping list you can’t find. A bottle or a jar or a tin or a tube. A  packet of some sort. A cardboard  box.  A job.  An insight.  A revelation. A little victory.  An answer. A dream that comes true. I guess you could ask one of the staff stacking the shelves.

“Done,” says Reuben, tapping his pen on the shopping list. “Everything – except the chutney and the relish.”

A check-out girl beckons us. Her name tag says Tanya. Her eyes say Hello. Reuben unpacks systematically, grouping the groceries. Is this what it’s going to be like at the Pearly Gates? St Peter, wearing a name tag, and scanning everything in our lives, checking the price we have to pay? And will I have enough on the Visa card? I guess by then there’s no more credit.

The elderly gentleman stands at the next checkout. There’s just milk and cereal in his trolley. And, perhaps, grandchildren and a garden and bowls on Saturday. The radio on the kitchen table.  Photos of his wife on the mantelpiece. Hand-written love letters in a bedside drawer. Comfort and joy.

“Cash out?” asks Tanya. I’m dazed. I still don’t understand this notion of a shop giving you money. It always seemed the other way around. Well, back in the late ‘60s and early ’70s at least.

Reuben has re-packed the trolley on the other side of the checkout. Tanya gives me cash. I give thanks – to Tanya, to Reuben, to the elderly gentleman of my imagination, to Chris Rees, to Geoff Blethyn.

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    Nothing like the banality of super-market shopping to let the mind wander.
    If you’re an Almanacker or any other writer you can easily get the first paragraph or title envisaged for a story just by observing the fellow shoppers. It looks like you have done exactly that.
    My ending to your story would have been the old guy coming up to you at the checkout, pointing to Geoff Bleythn on your chest and saying, ” Did you know that young fella used to come into my shop in Moonee Ponds to have his glasses fitted? A really nice young man.

  2. aussiegus says

    Outstanding. Leave aside the joy of shopping ( I hope you support the independents), Im fascinated by the Tshirt Options. How about some of the following:
    Mick Nolan – for the larger gentelman
    John Cassin – with whispy hair flowing everywhere
    Bohdan Jaworrskyj – just because
    Vinny Catoggio – with big afro

    I think i might go for the Uncle Doug Elliot. He could be advertising Kevin Dennis Holden, Patra and Ballantynes chocolates. That would be appropriate for the Supermarket

  3. craig dodson says

    After a tough day at the office this put a smile on my face – great read.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Occasionally the in-store muzak will throw up an unexpected treat (but not often)

    And the Pearly Gates will probably be self-serve when we get there, because the “12 sins or less” checkout will be closed.

  5. Uncle Doug could also do TNT Thomas Nationwide Transport “the more you send the less you spend”

  6. I was a ten year old bomber fan in 1968. Probably listened to the grand final on 3LO or 3UZ. Might have been 3DB, but whoever I listened too must have been a bomber fan because all i remember is a goal that Blethyn kicked was called a point by the biased goal umpire. That extra 5 points would have got the Bombers over the line and would have them on 17 flags. 18 if we count the 1990 fiasco after the drawn prelim.
    Geoff Blethyn was a great player, glasses or not. Played on in WA after he left the Bombers.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Blethyn tasted premiership success with Port Adelaide in 1977.

  8. I loathe supermarket shopping but loved reading about your travails along aisles too cold and too bright. I have a bad habit of forgetting something really necessary like toilet paper or the sauce but yet manage locate the quirky but fairly redundant kitchen gadgets that my kitchen is now full of. I like the idea of enigmatic footy t-shirts ; perhaps Safeway could stock them.

  9. Pamela Sherpa says

    Delightful to read Vin -I love how you express the simplicity of feeling good by wearing a T-shirt and ” cereal and the back pages of the paper – that’s all you need sometimes.”

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Chris has now branched out to include some SANFL legends

    My Grenville Dietrich (in Robran red) arrived today.

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