Writer & Filmmaker

Gender Equality

Bags and Bags of Money…

plastic bag

When I were a lad…

I’ve always wanted to start a piece with that but felt way too self-consciously a Londoner to get to the end of the sentence. So I won’t carry it on but continue in a more normal voice. (Is this self-censorship at work?)

Here we go again: When I was a child living in Islington, on a Sunday morning we would often go to Chapel Market. It was somewhere you ran into kids you knew from school or other schools you’d been to or family members whom you hadn’t seen for a while. If you waited long enough you’d be sure to run into most people you knew, had known, or were likely to know in the foreseeable future.

There was a slightly dated non-glamorised Dickensian feel to Chapel Market at the time , and  there wasn’t any organic fruit or speed bumps to be seen. There was always plenty of activity and cheap goods with no sign of a receipt or, indeed, any form of provenance that may have held up to scrutiny. But most of the market was just a regular market. It had the fruit and veg, the prawns and whelks, clothing, handbags, and the tools for that Sunday job that just couldn’t wait.

And of course there were the obligatory doughnut and fritter stalls should you need to steel yourself against those cold winds whipping down from Liverpool Road. Sheltering from those same winds was a lady selling plastic bags. Week after week she was there selling these bags. I never bought a bag and can remember what she looked like to this day. She must have made money or why was she there week after week?

It struck me today that she was behind the times then but ahead of the times now. For those who don’t know today marked the beginning of a new government policy in England where stores have to charge you 5p for a plastic bag. These very same bags had been free until yesterday but as that clock struck twelve the bag didn’t turn into a worthless pumpkin but a revenue raising policy that will just keep giving and giving.

This hasn’t come out of the blue. Signs have been up for months telling you that from the 5th of October you’ll have to pay for a bag. Some stores have even been giving out free “Bags for Life” which are replaced for free when needed.

I can see the day when people are going to start undercutting the big supermarkets by selling cut-price bags outside the supermarkets. It could be a great way to advertise a rival supermarket, or promote a cause, expose a tax-avoiding company. I’m sure that there’s a loop hole that you can give bags away if it isn’t your store. And then all that free advertising in a rival’s own shop, or campaign slogans merrily being packed at the till. For the opportunist charity or campaign it will become a fantastic piece of marketing that will surely be incredibly cost effective.

The money from the bag sales is supposed to go to good caused and charities. It could get really interesting when the charities say that they aren’t receiving as much of the charity money generated from the new policy as people are buying their bags elsewhere. The next generation of sales and marketing geniuses may get their start in plastic bags.

Of course the idea is that you take your bags with you. Well, that’s what I planned to do. And where did it all go so terribly wrong then? My wife had the bags, my son wasn’t well so they went to the car while I (good old reliable male) finished the shop. I felt almost shamed asking the checkout assistant to purchase a bag. Shamed for forgetting or shamed that I felt suckered. I even went for a more expensive version and purchased a bag for life. Undoubtedly this is what the supermarkets are counting on.

It’s men who will really pay the price here because most men don’t carry a handbag where you can store your bags should you need them for an emergency purchase. Perhaps it’s me but every time I walk into a store with any kind of bag I have a posse of security staff trailing me. If that happens to you just head over to the meat section and start inspecting the good quality cuts then wander over to the booze section. They get very excited every time you pass an exit with this strategy.

Are there any grounds for a class action based on gender discrimination here? As a non-bag carrying male I certainly feel that I’m being unfairly targeted. Perhaps, I should, as helpfully suggested by a checkout assistant, carry some spare bags in my socks.