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The Scrivener: Free Samples

“My father had a good time being a small boy in the 1880s,’’ writes Brian Barratt.

And, now that Brian has won his battle to be included in the distribution of free samples, he is able to add the comment "Being an old man in the 21st century has its little pleasures, too.’’

To read more of Brian’s generously donated words please click on

And do visit his mind-expanding Web site www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

My father used to talk about the Italian ice-cream sellers who handed out "tasters", free samples, to children. But that was in the 19th century. Yes, he was born in 1879 so was an old man when he told tales of his childhood.

The years fly by. It's my turn to be elderly. In fact, I am now older than he was when he reminisced about the tasters. We are now well into the 21st century. There are no Italian ice-cream and gelato vendors on the streets. If there were, health and safety regulations would no doubt forbid them to park their tricycles wherever they liked and hand out samples.

But we do have another source of freebies. Ladies sometimes pop up in supermarkets, standing behind little cardboard stalls, offering all kinds of goodies. But to whom?

For years, I thought it was a Women Only business. When I walked towards one of these stalls, I would be ignored. The ladies seemed to have their own quiet way of letting gentlemen know that they didn't qualify for free samples. Well, I got tired of being ignored. Action was required. Indeed, to use that trendy word, I had to be "proactive". My father could not have been proactive when he was a boy because the word was not invented until the 1930s. It was the property of psychologists until someone borrowed it and turned it into a pretentious bit of jargon in the 1970s.

Anyway, how does one be proactive in the presence of a lady with free samples? The first proaction, er, sorry, action I tried was simply to pause and have a look. It didn't work. I remained unseen.

The second approach was to pause and smile. In return, I received a smile, but not a free sample. I felt distinctly excluded from Women's Business and had an inner urge to start up a movement demanding Equal Rights For Men.

The third approach was to open a conversation. Just some simple word such as "Mmmm" or "Hello" or "What's that?" while adopting a pose which clearly indicated that I was interested and anticipated a reaction. Aha, that worked! The good lady could not continue to ignore me, could she?

It helped to say, with a smile, such things as "Men eat, too", or "Men cook, too". The penny dropped. I was offered a sample. In fact, I believe that the Equal Rights For Men idea has spread, because in the past couple of years some of these women have voluntarily offered tasters or samples. I now make a point of thanking those who initiate the interaction, obviously realising that males are also potential customers.

A few weeks ago, I had a jolly good chat with a young lady who offered tiny plastic cups of coffee. I had never heard of the brand before and didn't particularly like the flavour, so I told her about my favourite coffee, Blue Mountain. As she had never heard of it, and because she was standing next to the Tea & Coffee section of the supermarket, I pointed it out on the shelf. Well, it isn't the real thing, at a mere $5 for 250 grams. The real thing sells at superior stores for about $50 for 250 grams. I can't afford that but I relish the memory.

Another day, a slightly older woman was offering small pieces of Christmas fruit mince pies made by my favourite commercial bakery. Oh, we had a good chat because she wasn't merely an agent who represented different companies. She actually worked for the bakery and knew all about bread and baking. We agreed that their Corn Bread and their French regional loaves are excellent. Expensive, but excellent.

There you are, then. My father had a good time being a small boy in the 1880s. Being an old man in the 21st century has its little pleasures, too, now that I've won my battle for Equal Rights.

© Copyright Brian Barratt


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