An 18-month-old in a shopping trolley, standing very steady, surveying random knots of shoppers much as a prince-regent would his subjects.

The shopping cart could be his horse-drawn chariot, except it is not being pulled but pushed and the pusher -the mum, most likely - sports a supercilious smile. "See, how balanced my boy is," the proudly curled lips seem to say.

She is looking around, assessing public awareness of her little genius who is, himself, looking out at the shopping mall through plastic lenses.

He has pulled a transparent shopping bag clean over his head ensuring his view of the "unnoticing populace" cannot be anything other than dim.

One shocked onlooker (me) draws in an audible gasp, the trolley pusher quickly mis-identifying fear, thinking it awe. Her plastic-masked 'prince' cracks her up with laughter. She makes no attempt to unmask him.

Fortunately, the youngster loses interest, tears off the bag, tosses it away. I'm the one that begins breathing again.

On another trolley, another child. What is it with children and free shopping mall rides? This one is screaming, her eyes tearless. Her trolley-pusher is not buying into the screams. She's playing a deaf wall.

Who knows what it sees and hears? Who cares? The screaming child does. It raises the stakes, taking things a note higher, two notes, another semitone, a whole octave.

The child has a captive audience and would have settled for it, had the audience included mama. But mama doesn't care how many fools want to stare at this screaming brat, she's just not buying any stock in this raucous caterwauling, no way, Jose!

Mama receives the evil eye from several onlookers but glides smoothly by on a carpet of imperviousness, past clothes stores, newsagents, the foot court, where the mingling aromas from KFC, Oporto, Hungry Jack's, Hot Wok and Gloria Jeans confuse and subdue the screamer.

One of the onlookers (me) reasons that it is impossible to scream when the mouth is watering. So henceforth all screaming brats should be placed proximate with aromatic food so that salivation might neutralise their potential for screaming the roof down.

The same principle is used to put a trumpeter off his game: Sit in the front row and, catching his eye as he blows, suck pointedly on a lime/lemon.

Watch how the trumpeter, for whom a dry mouth is imperative, loses the plot and Besame Mucho ends up sounding like La Cucaracha.

Same day

Other shopping mall observations, on the same day (in Woolworths): A third child riding in a shopping cart, whose two front wheels are playing Government and Opposition.

Steering the cart with difficulty but adroitness is a man, 30, 35, Sunday weekend stubble unable to disguise clamped jaws as he negotiates the cereal aisle that also stocks biscuits and chocolates.

The child taking the cart ride is silent, angelically so. It is the other child - probably an older brother - walking by the cart that's playing the leading role, which, common to deprived youngsters, is crying.

He is doing a more verbal, "boo-hoo" routine, so it's not just crying sounds the other cereal and biscuit shoppers are being treated to.

The stubble-jawed parent - for the child calls him Dad - emphasises, "I SAID, NO MORE CHOCOLATE!" Up goes the volume on the boo-hooing.

Up goes dad's hand, SMACK, making contact with the back of the head (where the optic nerve is situated, where a sharp blow can sometimes make us, like prospective astronomers, see stars.)

Dad looks around guiltily, assessing his worth among the other shoppers. Are some of them about to break into applause for a shot well connected? Most look at him reproachfully. At this point, up goes the struck boy's volume of cries.

His eyes are, indeed, wet. But dad doesn't see them. He sees his own fallen status and for that, angry as he is, he cannot forgive his wailing boy. Up goes his hand again. Smack!

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney.