At first, the stress of this week’s supermarket shop is magnified by the need to dodge frequent ambushes of Christmas goods, displayed in virtually every aisle. But it is also assuaged by bumping into a friend of mine by the petfood.
At this point my small daughter begins jumping up and down, doing what my friend calls “the toilet dance”, so I despatch her to the customer loo near the vegetables while my friend and I enjoy a stress-busting chat before tackling frozen foods.
I’m confident that I won’t have moved on by the time Laura returns, but in any case we have in place our emergency plan as to what should happen if either of us ever gets lost in the supermarket – to meet at the checkout furthest from the entrance. In Laura’s opinion, the person getting lost won’t necessarily be her – she defines the lost person as the first one to notice that the other one is missing. So mostly that’d be me, then.
After a jolly chat, my friend, up against the clock, makes her farewell and trolls off with her trolley. I turn back to the pet food. Hay, for the guinea pig – not to be confused with straw. If you’re a guinea pig, the difference is crucial, according to the Piglogpedia, a wonderful reference book that the guinea pig rescue lady made me promise to buy before entrusting us with Brownie and the late lamented Ginger. She must have had her baby by now, I realised, and wonder whether hay would work as an environmentally-friendly alternative to nappies.
I’m wrenched from my reverie by an elderly lady with pink hair, whom I’d seen earlier out of the corner of my eye while I was chatting to my friend.
“Don’t you think you are being rather irresponsible sending your daughter off to the toilet by herself?”
I blink, taken aback.
“No, I don’t think so. She knows where it is. We went there on the way in. She’s been there lots of times.”
She scowls at me and shakes her head, setting her pink curls trembling.
“Anything could be happening to her in there while you are chatting with your – friend.”
She spits out the last word contemptuously. My friend, I hasten to add, is the pillar of society, respectable, sober and about as sensible as you can get. It’s not as if she were covered in tattoos and offering me a swig from her cider bottle in a paper bag.
I shake my head.
“I don’t think so. Laura’s 7 and she’s very sensible. You have to let them start to have some independence sometime, you know, and that’s what I’m doing now.”
Her reaction makes me wonder if she thinks “independence” is a slang for some kind of illegal drug.
She narrows her eyes, threateningly.
“You may think so. But my friend’s daughter is seven and she was attacked two weeks ago in a toilet in Tesco’s.”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to say “And that’s why I don’t shop in Tesco’s” but I don’t think this would go down too well.
“Thank you for your concern, but I am happy with my parenting skills,” I say tersely, trying to take her advice in the spirit in which it was intended.
Happier than you should be with your hairdressing skills, I’m thinking to myself. I bite my lip.
And right on cue, Laura comes skipping back round the corner.
“Hello, lovely Mummy!” she says winningly and the lady with pink hair shuffles off, clearly disappointed.
But as I turn back to the hay, I give Laura an extra little hug.
“Hello, my lovely big girl.”
And as we progress to the bakery aisle, I’m holding firmly on to her small, trusting hand.