I went grocery shopping. This is the time honored tradition in which once every two weeks I actually leave my house and go shopping. I don't know, maybe I'm doing it wrong, but the grocery store is something I don't understand. I never have, and maybe I never will.

I'm the guy who looks totally out of place at the grocery store. My cart wobbles and the wheels jam and I always seem to be in the way. I don't know where stuff is and I end up going from one side of the store to the other multiple times, trying to avoid people the entire time. I try to buy the obvious items, things I get every trip. A gallon of skim milk, but I can't find it. It's sold out. I go to buy chips and I'm faced with a wall of choices.

I find myself in the wine aisle and I'm comparing wineries and prices and types, when I suddenly remember I don't drink wine. I've never bought wine, and I have no business doing so.

I finally decide I should get some ham for sandwiches, but should I get deli ham, prepackaged ham, or fresh cut prepackaged ham? Eyeing the line at the deli, I decide that fresh packaged ham will suffice. But do I want cooked ham, smoked ham, or honey ham. I stare at the choices for an eternity, not knowing which I should choose. I'm jolted back into reality by a young girl who accidentally rams her cart into me while her mother is elsewhere. For just a brief second, I believe I was invisible. If only I could have stayed there longer.

Finally I decide on smoked ham and prepare to buy produce when I realize I forgot to buy mayonnaise. But that's on the other side of the store. Off I go.

A New England Patriots Tale of Yore...

Despite the Patriots' Super Bowl run in 1986, the franchise was in dismal shape. The team that Raymond Berry built had crumbled into a perennial loser, winning just 14 games in a four year stretch from 1989 to 1992. Shortly after finishing 2-14 under former Syracuse coach Dick McPherson, the Patriots announced the hiring of Bill Parcells as head coach. Parcells, arguably one of the best coaches in football, and certainly the best button-pusher around, took immediately to the task of rebuilding the Patriots franchise, even as the team wondered where it would be playing its games in the coming years (St. Louis, perhaps?)

Parcells immediately drafted the deepest class of talent the Patriots had seen in years. The 1993 draft included quarterback Drew Bledsoe from Washington State, the overall number one pick in the draft and one of the two can't-miss quarterbacks in the draft class of '93 (Rick Mirer was the other). Linebacker Chris Slade became the first piece of what would become a stifling defense, and wide receivers Vincent Brisby and Troy Brown would make significant contributions to the team in years to come.

A loaf of bread... a quart of milk... and a stick of butter...

The team finished 5-11 in the first year of Parcells' reign, due in no small part to the lack of a featured running back and the misadventures of one Scott "Missin'" Sisson, the rookie placekicker notorious for missing almost half of his field goal tries. Sisson was replaced near season's end by former Giant Matt Bahr as Parcells began peppering his roster with players from his Super Bowl teams in New York.

In an attempt to find that feature running back, the Patriots moved several draft picks in offseason in order to acquire Marion Butts from the San Diego Chargers. Defensive end / elephant Willie McGinest was picked up in the draft, as well as offensive lineman Max Lane and linebacker Marty Moore. The Patriots began the season in a fashion similar to previous years, but rattled off seven straight wins to finish the season at 10-6. Facing the NFL's number one defense in the Bill Belichick-led Cleveland Browns, the Patriots lost the opening Wild Card playoff game and began planning for next season.

A loaf of bread... a quart of milk... and a stick of butter...

It was during this time that the Boston media latched onto the strong personality of Bill Parcells. Parcells had the reputation of being a straight shooter... if he thought your question was stupid, he told you so. If you asked a question ambiguously, you received an ambiguous response. It became a game for reporters, trying to phrase their question to exactly get the answer they were looking for, or at the very least get the coach riled up. Parcells played the game and played it well... his postgame press conferences were nearly as entertaining as the games that preceded them.

The 1995 draft saw another influx of talent, as the Patriots added Ty Law and Jimmy Hitchcock to the secondary, Ted Johnson to the linebacking corps, and an oft-injured running back from Pittsburgh named Curtis Martin to the fold. The Patriots were loading up on talent, but slipped to 6-10 that year, including an embarrassing Monday Night loss to the Broncos in which a fake punt by the Patriots early in the game blew up in their faces en route to a 37-3 home loss.

A loaf of bread... a quart of milk... and a stick of butter...

Meanwhile the tension between Parcells and owner Bob Kraft began to grow. Parcells had his own ideas about how to build a team, and those ideas centered around defense. Kraft thought that an offensive player would best suit the team's needs, and the disagreement came to a head on draft day, when Kraft overruled Parcells and the team selected wide receiver Terry Glenn from Ohio State. Parcells became openly critical of ownership and stirred up even more controversy when he referred to Glenn as "she" when asked about the receiver's problems with a recurring hamstring injury.

While the Patriots managed to draft perennial Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy, linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Chris Sullivan, O-lineman Heath Irwin, and tight end Lovett Purnell in the 96 draft, the strong draft class was overshadowed by the Glenn issue and the drafting and near-immediate release of Christian Peter, a Nebraska product who had a history of alleged sexual assaults.

A loaf of bread... a quart of milk... and a stick of butter...

The 1996 New England Patriots started 0-2 but quickly established themselves as one of the better teams in the league. The Bills had been the preseason favorites to win the AFC East, and Denver was busy pummelling the rest of the AFC into the ground, but the Patriots piled up solid victories, including a 45-7 drubbing of the Chargers that sent them spiraling out of playoff contention. In a week 17 contest the Patriots showed their mettle when, down 22-0 at halftime to the Giants, the "Flying Elvises" came back to win the game 23-22, securing a first round bye in the playoffs.

When Mark Brunell and the Jacksonville Jaguars knocked off the juggernaut Broncos, the Patriots found themselves with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. After decimating the Steelers 28-3 in near zero-visibility conditions to win their first ever home playoff game, the Patriots held the Jags to two field goals, as a late fumble return for touchdown by Otis "My Man" Smith sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl for only the second time in the team's history.

As is sometimes the case with the NFL Playoffs, there were two weeks in between the Patriots victory in the AFC Championship and their date with the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. With two weeks and the typical Super Bowl stories exhausted (other than the Patriots' slim hopes of winning), most reporters didn't have much to write about. Except Will McDonough.

The venerable reporter for the Boston Globe got hold of a story about a week before the Super Bowl that said that Parcells was going to up sticks after the season and become the head coach of the New York Jets. For Patriots fans this was akin to Superman shacking up with Lex Luthor and busting up Metropolis together. It was wrong on so many levels. And coming just before the Super Bowl, the inevitable distraction was the last thing the fourteen point underdog Patriots needed going into the Superdome. The team lost 35-21 in a game that was about as close as the score indicated. Five days later Parcells resigned as head coach of the New England Patriots.

A loaf of bread... a quart of milk... and a stick of butter...

Three days later, Bill Parcells was named head coach of the Jets. With the pain of the Super Bowl loss still stinging Pats fans, Parcells wore a perpetual smirk as he addressed the New York media during his first Jets press conference, taking occasional shots at the Patriots management and ownership. At one point, Parcells made reference to the fact that he didn't like having his personnel picked out for him. "They want you to cook the dinner," he said, "at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries."

The quote became the exclamation point on Parcells tenure with the team. The Patriots filed a greivance with the NFL, demanding compensation for Parcells, and in the end they were awarded four draft picks with which to shop for more groceries. The Pete Carroll Era had begun...


Many fans argued, perhaps correctly, that Parcells was the reason that the Patriots reached the Super Bowl that year. And as Terry Glenn grew to become the biggest malcontent in New England, fans generally assumed that Parcells had been right all along. After all, the Patriots could have selected Ray Lewis with that pick, a man generally considered to be the most dominant player in the game today. But that's not who Parcells wanted to draft with the sixth overall pick. He wanted defensive end Tony Brackens from Texas, a guy whose skills were in such demand that he wasn't even picked until the second round, three picks before the Pats took Lawyer Milloy, who himself ended up being the second or third best overall defensive player taken in that draft. Terry Glenn, meanwhile, shattered the rookie record for receptions with 90, and stretched the field for Bledsoe and company every time he was in the game.

Josh started university this autumn. He was sent off armed with boxes of cereal, packets of pasta, containers of laundry detergent, a veritable selection of kitchen equipment, and an iron. (For those of you who don't know Josh, he's something of a dandy; the iron is essential.) He is blossoming into a more than competent cook, hosts a fabulous radio show, and manages to turn in his assignments on time. Altogether, I would say that he is coping most admirably. Nevertheless, there have been IM conversations where I have directed him in the finer arts of separating clothes to prevent colour leeching during the laundry process, and a telephone conversation along the lines of: 'I've cut myself and it won't stop bleeding. What should I do?' However, a recent text message was perhaps my favourite: 'I need lessons in food shopping. Please email advice.' (I'm waiting for the next request to come via telegram.)

Bless him, he was slightly perplexed as to where his money disappeared every time he stepped foot in the supermarket. Telling him to shop around was definitely not an option: he lives on campus and does not drive. He might be a student but he really does have better ways to spend his time and money than taking the bus about town to compare the price of potatoes in Sainsbury's with those in the Co-op. Thus I drew on my experiences from five years of student-enforced penury and provided him with the following advice. You never know, you might find it useful too.

  1. Do not go shopping when you're hungry. Going grocery shopping with a rumbling stomach will result in you buying enough snack food to make you obese and induce diabetes in one sitting. Not only that, but you will be even grumpier than the usual gauntlet of the supermarket shopping experience makes you. And more? You still won't have any food with which to make an actual meal.
  2. Make a list. Doubtless you've heard this hundreds, if not thousands of times, but do it anyway. Plan out what you need in terms of essentials: bread, milk, cereral, toothpaste, toilet roll &c. Then work out how many meals you need to accommodate from the shopping expedition you are about to undertake. It will seem like a terrible chore, and you will almost certainly leave it on your desk, but the act if writing it will help to focus your mind.
  3. I don't necessarily plan my exact meals before I go. I work out how many times I need to feed myself and what, vaguely, I want. Thus, my list will normally say something like: dinner for Monday - fish? This way I can buy whatever looks fresh/good/is suitably cheap, but make sure I have what I need to feed myself.
  4. Buy only what you need. Unless it's things such as tinned tomatoes that don't go off and are used with alarming regularity, don't feel compelled to buy things in bulk because they are on offer. Three-for-two offers on large tubs of yoghurt might seem like great value, but will you eat all of it before it starts to smell, congeal, and turn a funny colour? Sustaining an independent ecosystem in an over-abundance of something in your fridge is not good value for money.
  5. Take a calculator with you. Sometimes the very largest size of a product isn't the cheapest. It's the middle size. Work it out. Do not be embarrassed by your status as a skint student. It is a ritual and badge of honour. Remember: the smallest size invariably won't be the most cost effective.
  6. Sometimes there are weird brands which are cheaper than supermarket own brands; keep an eye out for them. I get through risotto rice in almost industrial quantities. I use an Italian brand that is half the price of anything else in the supermarket and is just as good, if not better. Same goes for tinned tomatoes.
  7. Use a basket, not a trolley. Not only will this prevent you having to schlep a container ship's-worth of products back home and then find room for them, it will help to stop you from spending too much.
  8. Get an adult to take you shopping. She or he will usually pay.

I've set myself up for the last one, I know. Whenever I visit him, I will have to take him shopping and I will feel obliged to pay. I was a poor student once upon a time. I might yet end up a poor student again. What you give is what you get returned. But the good news? He tells me he has managed to reduce his weekly grocery bill quite significantly. Huzzah!

Addendum: alex has pointed out that you should not go shopping when you are tired. Fatigue will diminish your ability to resist the unnecessary, and probably snack and comfort foods, too. Good point, thank you.

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