A long long time ago when God was a boy and before I had teeth, I can remember sitting on the counter in the green grocers while he weighed out sugar to be bagged up in a heavy duty blue bag sealed shut with tape. Now that I have teeth and want to preserve them, I have stopped buying sugar. The flatmate and I have been the proud owners of the same bag of sugar for five years.
In the intervening years, not only has dentistry come a long way but shopping has progressed too. Or has it?
The advent of self service has meant that I have accidentally invested in more tins of red pepper than anyone could reasonably be expected to eat in a lifetime. Its always in the mistaken belief they are tomatoes. While the words “pepper” and “tomato” may have obvious differences to those who can see a reasonable amount, it all looks the same to me.
With the rise of the superstore comes super confusion. No good relying on being able to read the signs about what lurks in each isle if you can’t see where the signs are in the first place. The number of miles travelled in search of the dried chick peas has served me well. Other people have the fit bit. I have the quest for marmite. When the search for oats ends with dog food, (some may say that comes to the same thing in the end), the best laid of culinary plans are abandoned.
One thing you can depend upon in the mega store, is that there are always crisps and chocolate at the end of the slog up and down rows of mysterious assorted coloured blobs. While I can resist the sugar, the salt is seductive and pairs oh so well with the wine on the sideboard in my kitchen. This too turned out to be a disappointment as I poured myself a glass of olive oil.
In the supermarket game of blind It’s A Knock Out, the arrival of the self service till has created a opportunity for me to stand about looking gormlus while an invisible youth waves at me as if directing the idiot driver of a large car into a small parking space. “Next Customer,” he bellows. I’ve got so good at recognising this tone of exasperation that I now know it’s my cue to step forward and find someone to help. I’ve long since given up worrying that I’m in a queue for something that I cannot do.
On the signal of infuriated shouting, I step forward and head for the voice. Then, I say “Please could you help me as I can’t see to operate the machine?” they usually say “No Problem, ” and regardless of whether or not my cane is in my hand, “just follow the instructions on the screen”. Then I explain myself again and sometimes help is delivered with great good grace and sometimes its delivered with contempt.
I have to confess that without the benefit of knowing what each stage of paying by this method looks like, I cannot help but wonder about some of the commands shoppers are instructed to abide by. I thought a “bagging area” was the slump in the fabric on the backside of a much loved pair of trousers. I cannot help but fantasise that this reference is an instruction to stuff your shopping down your trousers and leg it.
The self service till has tripled the number of times I need to give an account of my inability to do something while out shopping. It is one of the means by which my shopping experience is hobbled.
This is why I buy my fruit and veg from a nice man called Bill with a pair of lungs like bellows. His come hither cries always lure me to spend more on celeriac than I intended and if I pile the cash in my hand he works it out for me and calls me “Darling” into the bargain. He’s also been known to instruct me to “Open your gob,” so he can pop a grape inside. I know I could do it for myself but life cannot get much better than being fed grapes in public by a nice man.