Supermarket sweep

the material world
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The Independent Culture
There are 1,300,000 active in this country but each year up to 140,000 go AWOL. They're sighted in Tony Benn's front garden and inside the walls of Windsor Castle. They lean against lampposts, and rust semi- submerged in rivers (7,000 were dragged out of the Thames and its tributaries this year).

Raymond Joseph, of Strasbourg, is believed to have been the inventor of the modern 4-wheeled wire supermarket trolley, which first arrived in this country in 1950 - at Croydon Sainsbury's.

Safeways now equip stores with rows of Regulars, Easisteers, Baby Seat Trolleys, Baby Plus Toddler Trolleys, Twin Baby Trolleys, Twin Toddler Trolleys, Wheelchair Trolleys, Disabled Child Trolleys and Elderly Person's Trolleys. Sainsbury's has tried miniature Child's Own Trolleys but kiddy gridlocks formed. Lo-Cost, promotes a "double choice of disabled trolleys".

In the past year, a pensioner died after scuffling with a younger man in a trolley argument in a Darlington car park, a woman was jailed for smashing a bottle of wine over the head of a trolley queue jumper in M&S, and a man in Bradford was punched into Kipling cakes by the husband of a woman achilles-heeled by his trolley. Another was also man jailed for ramming a woman in Safeways, Dewsbury. But, although there are 7,000 trolley related injuries treated per year, 15 million shoppers manoeuvre a trolley per week without serious "trolley-rage" or "child trolley fall".

This year, Asda tested a model whose back wheels lock when riding. There are studs embedded around the "outer-trolley perimeter" which curb trolley abandonment and their increasing use as incinerators, rabbit hutches, parrot cages, plant stands, barbecue grills, tool containers and bag-lady accessories.

Tesco's is testing trolleys fitted with microchips tracking movements in its Sutton Coldfield store. There is a "trolley stop-dead" magnetic field around Sainsbury's in Cromwell Road. Asda in Minworth in the West Midlands has trolleys with alternative wheels to cope with static electric trolley shocks that left, at worse, customers thinking they had suffered a heart attack by the baked beans. Then there's the double-level-plus- mezzanine trolley holding, car-loadable Smart-boxes, at Sainsbury's in Tunbridge Wells, along with tests on Long Trolleys for use by trolley- truckers (families who buy a month's goods at a time).

But here is the sort of trolley we can look forward to pushing in the new shopping millennium: a trolley with six wheels, all with unique castors; three seats of varying sizes and an advertising board at the front; with

in-built bar-code swiper and a smart card slot that sets off beeps when you pass any goods that head office knows you usually buy; there will be loudspeakers (and/or computer screen) onto which adverts are triggered; "stop dead and alert" infra- red devices and scanner initiators that read the final contents and trigger an itemised bill from an APP (Automatic Payment Point). This immediately sets internal re-order dockets in motion and composes a personalised message to be triggered when you next go shopping, along with children's quizzes, movie news and second-by-second details of your loyalty digits.

A brave new world or scrap metal with holes?

Police once visited an 82-year-old woman's flat and took away 41 shopping trolleys she had bought home and stored in her lounge. "I'm so glad they're going," she said