In Food and drink, History, What is, Words

A big trolley

This Monday, the inaugural World Restaurant Awards will take place in Paris. Among the prizes being handed out that night will be Trolley of the Year. At last! Recognition for this most unsung hero of the vehicular tribe.

In this instance the trolleys in question are sweet trolleys, by which I don’t mean dainty little trolleys that you just want to cuddle, but those elegant icons of a bygone hospitality age that used to appear with great ceremony at your table, their amusing pink jellies still wobbling, while you were still picking overdone steak out of your teeth and loosening your belt a couple of notches.

I suspect the WRA prize will be awarded on the strength of the sugary contents of the trolley, rather than the build quality of the trolley itself, but let’s just imagine for a moment that this is an award for trolleys of all genres. I’m sure you all have your favourites.

Best Supporting Trolley would have to go to one of those heavy-duty numbers favoured by warehousefolk, removal persons and market traders, who tend to call them barrows. Anything that can pick up five crates of grapefruit or a loaded four-drawer filing cabinet and convey them across a cobbled street without you breaking sweat has to be worth a nomination.

The size of the wheels is a factor. Most trolleys have piddling little wheels, which are fine for an airport concourse or supermarket but become useless as soon as you hit grass or mud, so you’re left with no choice but to find a canal to dump them in.

The mention of shopping trolley capers leads us seamlessly on to the Best Trolley in Comedy category. There are many candidates for this award, mostly supermarket trolleys, from those that don’t steer straight and send you crashing into the pyramid of beans, to those that get inadvertently swapped while you’re perusing the pickles, so you end up going home with someone else’s bananas and they get your kids.

Other candidates range from hostess trolleys that glide across the parquet, catch on the edge of the Persian rug and catapult the lobster into the Colonel’s lap, causing his monocle to fall into his soup, to those old railway trolleys that you propel by getting a verger and members of the Home Guard to pump a handle up and down, usually pursued by a steam train.

This was what the word trolley first came to mean: a cart, usually one with flanged wheels for running on a track. Why trolley? From the word ‘troll’, meaning ‘to roll’. Try saying it quickly. Amazing eh!

The word trolley only came into use in the 1800s, though the verb ‘to troll’ – as in to roll or trundle, rather than to abuse on social media or hide under bridges terrorising goats – had been around for 500 years. Later that century the flanged wheel, or trolley wheel, was used to roll along electrified cables, picking up current to power streetcars, also known as trolley cars or trolley buses.

This is probably where the expression “off your trolley” comes from. It doesn’t explain how trolleys came to be slang for trousers, though. The best guess is from Cockney rhyming slang: trolley wags – bags. And of course a trolley wag is a… nope, haven’t got a clue.

Best Art Trolley would have to go to the massive shopping trolley that once stood outside the Villaggio shopping mall in Doha. Qatar likes to go for world records and this was an attempt on the coveted ‘World’s Biggest Shopping Trolley’ record that no-one else was interested in, but they were thwarted because the judges from Guinness decreed that it wasn’t eligible because it didn’t move. Like so many things in Doha, it was quietly removed.

But the disappearance of a pointless giant trolley while the traditional sweet trolley makes a comeback seems like a good deal to me. A slice of the Black Forest Gâteau, please, garçon.

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