Found Shopping Lists And Why I Find Them

Guest Blog Post – By Jonathan Lee

Joe ‘Posset’ Murray did it first. He used to post his shopping list finds on Twitter, way before I started. I used to admire them, signifiers of shoppers in a different town or city.

I believe my first post, on Facebook, was an odd one as it had ‘mouldy ham’ written down, discarded in a park while I was on the way to the JobCentre one morning. I didn’t pick it up but took a photo to post once I got back home. After that I kept seeing discarded grocery lists all the time, in trolleys or baskets, at the end of the tills or on the floor.

After picking up a few I noticed that some were indecipherable, others just fragments. This led me to cary on as if I’d discovered some hitherto unknown source of found poetry, scores for readings that had yet to be heard. Handwriting and spelling leant what would be a shopping list in any other hands an air of mystery, especially once I got our eldest child to read out a few.

Still the collection grew bigger and I would get moaned at by the wife for picking up ‘other people’s rubbish’ even though I’d explained my reasons.

I had a vague idea for a ‘zine’ but photos and scans of lists didn’t appeal. Then Covid 19 hit. Long queues at supermarkets with paranoid shoppers (myself included) meant I was only photographing shopping lists in situ as they lay discarded on the floor, instead of picking them up as usual. I was left without a resource.

I was given the chance to perform a gig which gave me and the eldest a chance to read some of the shopping lists in public, plus a couple of found care notes, over some no-input mixer, a kind of low budget power electronics to our peers. We enjoyed it and the idea stuck. I was guided towards older sound poetry by Joe who had written a piece for the TQ zine and this set me on the path to concrete poetry. I downloaded pdfs. I bought a book. I devoured the images and descriptions. A quiet spell at work set my mind towards creating a form of found concrete poetry.

I’m still working on it and developing a CD (or tape) to go with it in zine form. I’m also back to picking up random pieces, making sure I wash my hands thoroughly after photoing and handling them. Daft, I know. I think there’ll be some form of recorded output with our daughter again using some lists, but that’s a separate project now, it’s taken on it’s own identity.

But it’s all Joe’s fault. Thanks Joe.

About the author

Jonathan Lee lives in Darlington, England with his wife, 3 children and an overly needy cat. Aside from collecting discarded shopping lists, Jonathan makes music under the alias Stapperton, collage under the alias insolent.collage and works in a post office. You can find him on social media here (https://instagram.com/insolent.collage) and admire some of his musical output here (https://lurkerbias.bandcamp.com/album/lb-071)

Shopping List Contributions

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The Best Hand Writing On A List

I wish I could write in this style. Clear, large hand writing. Fantastic.

A short list. Maybe this person has a cold, they need medicine and Kleenex. Interestingly in the UK we refer to ‘tissues‘ rather than the brand Kleenex.

Walmart Neighborhood Market, La Mesa, California, USA

Ruth’s Birthday

A vintage list from 7 years ago. A deceptively large shopping list as there are multiple items on each line.

This shopper has planned their menu for the next week with, for example, gammon and squares(?) on Thursday. It looks like Saturday night may have been a night out!

Dog owner.

Found Sainsbury’s, Calcot, Reading

15th September 2016

Hob Wok – Eggs 12 – Dog

A substantial shopping list. Torn paper, black biro.

This person has taken the trouble to enumerate their items:

  • Eggs 12
  • 2 Bags of spinach
  • 1 Carrotts
  • 2 Tomotenen?
  • 2 Pkt garfee?
  • Feet blackberries x 2?

The bottom right of the list makes for an interesting read, sliced chicken, sliced ham, frozen chicken, dog.

Morrisons, Reading, December 2022

Torn with Columns

To aid reading whilst dashing through the supermarket, this happy shopper has organised their list into columns. All the staples are here for a large weekly shop.

This person is organised as they have their columns but they also take a pen with them to check items off as they go.

Morrisons, Reading, December 2022

Central Reservation

Interesting to see a centre justified list. Items are bunched around a mostly invisible centrally vertical dividing line. Although in some cases, Ham | Chicken are visibly separated with a vertical bar.

A5, lined and spiral bound paper.

Dog and cat owner, smoker?

Doritos are listed as well as tortilla chips. Hmm.

On the back of the list is a date “Wed 22nd, 2:30pm”.

Sainsbury’s Reading, UK, June 2nd 2022

Spa Water

A small piece of paper, torn on 3 sides. Maybe belonging to an older hand.

Unusual to see a particular brand of water required.

What is W.U.L? Ah – washing up liquid 🙂

I suppose Bis is biscuits. Ch Burgers are chicken. Marg is margarine.

Lidl, Reading, UK. 2nd June 2022

Mouse Treats

Very nice neat handwriting here, lots of items fitted on a folded A5 spiral bound piece of paper.

Likely a mother of children at school age, with pets. Mouse treats, “kid’s” crisps/snacks, cookie dough, lollies.

Meat captured in a separate area of the list in large parenthesis. Chicken, prawns, muscles, bacon, ribs, sausages.

Orzo pasta suggests a cook in the house.

Sainsbury’s, Reading, UK, 2nd June 2022