Virginia Barton

31 August 2018: Posh Shop

31 August 2018


A charge of five pence per plastic bag was introduced here in England in 2015. It applies to those hideous, garish flimsy ones you pick up unthinkingly at the supermarket checkout. Hurray. It took long enough.

The levy has had an immediate effect both on the number discarded and on the number sold, and the government claims a 90% reduction in the use of these bags. People have learned to take a bag or two with them when they go shopping.


Not so very long ago — or is it? — I remember loose sugar being weighed into stout paper bags; likewise tea and other dry goods, like rice. Very little was pre-packed. We didn’t all die of food poisoning either. Cheese and butter was cut to spec and wrapped in greaseproof paper. Meat and fish the same; then rolled up in old newspaper. I write of post-war rural England and suburban London, up to the early Fifties.

Then suddenly everything was shrouded in plastic, the miracle wrap. Oh yes it was convenient! No spills and the entombed products lasted longer. It didn’t do much for the taste of cheese or cold ham — and still doesn’t.

Convenience was the buzz word and as more and more people bought fridges plastic came into its own – ever noticed how paper splits and squelches in the sodden atmosphere of a fridge?


Someone very kind gave me an extraordinarily posh shopping bag — SO posh I never use it. On one side is written:

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

On the other:

“New York Public Library.”

It’s a Ciceronian quote; the poor chap who lost head and hands to Mark Antony.

I freely admit that I am jealous of this bag, no-one is allowed to borrow it. They may look, admire and even handle it. As I said, even I don’t use it. It’s for books anyway, not for your humdrum potatoes or leaky tomatoes.


I do of course have other bags. One was ruined in the extreme heat a few weeks back when the black chocolate truffles mistakenly left in it melted to a black liquid.

(Had they been wrapped in plastic my Crossrail bag would no doubt have survived. Like Lady Macbeth, no amount of scrubbing could get it clean.)



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