“I'm awfully sorry, but I thought you were part of the vegetables.” Thus I tried to explain to a large wifie why I'd apparently made a grab for her arm. Until she'd jumped out of reach, I'd honestly thought she'd been in with the onions. I don't think my excuse worked however, as she stomped off towards the bread and cakes. But at least I now had full access to the onions and carrots.

Oh yes, even shopping for the most mundane items has its moments! An everyday trip down town is, for me, always an expedition. My comments on pavements, pedestrians and parking demand a diatribe of their own, suffice to say I used the word “trip” deliberately! If Dog and I make it to the main street, the fun is only just beginning.

For instance, there's queues. Guide dogs tend to take their owners to the head of any queue, achieving this by doing things with their noses which can't be described in polite company. My current assistant then compounds matters by prodding the pockets of anyone in the queue from whom he has picked up the aroma of doggie treats. Guide dogs aren't supposed to do this and I've met GDOs who maintain that their dogs are truly noble beasts who never do such things. Either I have naughty dogs or I'm more honest. Then there's conversations. In a hubbub of voices, it is easy to start a conversation with a wifie checking the shopping list with someone at the other end of a mobile phone. Or to place your order for mince and beef olives when the butcher is still discussing the weather with a tourist surprised it hasn't rained so far during his holiday in Galloway. And of course, I can't scan the displays for inspiration. I usually enter shops with my mind and menus already decided. Occasionally, if a shop is quiet, I'll ask an assistant for a review of their display and, as I've a good memory, that can be filed away. Or I listen to other people. This not only tells me interesting details of affairs or sojourns in hospital, but I frequently pick up information on what's behind the counter. I've never bought them yet, but I know the bakery section in the butcher's stocks chocolate whirls. I discovered this on the day I heard all about some poor soul's tussle with social workers and an irritating and drunken ex-husband. The general assumption that blind people are deaf has its uses.

But what about supermarkets? No, I don't place Dog in the toddler seat and wheech round with a trolley. Instead, I have rucksack on my back, Dog's harness handle in left hand and basket in my right. Luckily, the supermarket I regularly use keeps the same items in the same places so I can cope alone, mostly. It even uses braille on much of its packaging. Unfortunately, there's a trend for the smaller and more delicate fruit and veg to be packaged in wee, plastic boxes. Presumably to improve hygeine and quality. Have you noticed how many folk spit on their fingers before they attempt to open those footery veggie bags? Well, the boxes may have slowed down the spread of dysentery but they're an extra obstacle for me. If I'm making soup, I don't want a box of out-of-season strawberries! So, if I can't be sure, I ask. There's no point creeping around, feeling that as a disabled person, you are a Pest and a Drain on Society. You'll end up feeding the cats those sachets of dog food prepared for wee, hand-knitted dogs and your scotch broth will taste very strange.

However, our town does have another, larger supermarket which I never use unless accompanied. For a start, reaching its doors means either climbing through the trolley park or else running the gamut of the car park entrance; avoiding all those out-of-townies who retired to lovingly restored country cottages years ago and are now too stiff or blind or daft to drive a car, never mind park one. However, since the concept of public transport vanished from Wigtownshire many years ago, these wacky racers have been forced to keep on driving. Others tell me that watching the parking in there is scarier than watching the Monaco Grand Prix. And once inside, there's all the stuff. Piles of microwaves, or boxes of baked beans blocking its aisles. I don't know how either wheelchair users or mothers with go-chairs cope, but it's all too much for me. At first I'd ask for assistance but invariably I would be assigned a puir wee sowel who couldn't read. The interpretation of “inclusion” presumably being, “Let's include all thae disabled the gither an let them get on wi it!” I found the whole process most undignified, me spelling out each item and this wee chap trying to spell out labels. It was undignified for both of us, but I felt more so for my wee helper so I stopped using the shop. Now, if I do have to use it, trying to track down a specific item, I bring along my own companion.

All in all, Dog and I manage, especially as we still have a range of traditional, proper shops. In fact, the reaction of Onion Lady was exceptional, usually folk are only too glad to help. That is one advantage of living in a wee place, the locals know me. Sometimes I bring home the weird and wonderful but since I enjoy cooking, so what!

© Charlotte Bennie 2007