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The woman on the till whose posture resembled a Dali (no, not a ‘deli’ )

melting Camembert said, Can I help? in the most desultory fashion, as if

she had been exhausted by days of customer service training.

Insert your Clubcard or select payment, ordered the annoyingly didactic voice

in the aisle next to mine.

Nothing would induce me to feed my items through a self-service scanner.

You can bet your bottom dollar, euro or pound that there will be a

malfunction provoked by the yellow reduced stickers anyway.

Then there will be no one to assist, as the next till will be busy with a

woman cashing in a wad of vouchers, or who feels like having an

argument over whether something qualifies for one of the said


The manager will have to be called, but he, or they will have to send

out a search party if it is during a break and you’ll have to wait till the

one in authority finishes their fag and comes in from an alleyway.

The only other assistant- overweight and not able to squeeze past the metal

trolley from which she is removing on their sell-by date items from shelves- will

become wedged in the narrow aisle and will require a call-out from the

emergency services.

Of course, you simply have to wait for a humanly-manned till.  (Is ‘manned‘ a

generic term?) (A humanely-manned till: even better!)

I arthritically heave my heavy basket onto the towering pile of wire

receptacles by the side of the till.  Why do they allow them to pile up?

The assistant proffers a plastic bag automatically.

No, don’t worry. I have a ‘Suttonford Decries Plastic’ hessian shopper,

I say smugly.  That means I can have a bag point.

Whether I gained one or not is a moot point.

Do you have a Clubcard?

Yes, it is on the credit card.

Please insert your card .  The assistant looks away in the obvious manner

that you were told to look in the mirror on your driving test.  But what about

the person behind you with Derren Brown eyes and advanced mind mapping


I quickly type my pin number and, of course, get one digit wrong.  Then I notice

that I have been charged for two goats’ cheeses at the full price, when the second

should have been half price. So, I query it. (Does it take more than one goat to

create one of those log things?  I need to know for the apostrophe.)

Oh, that’s only for the Luxury brand available at our main store in **.

She mentions a town fifty miles away.

Okay, I sigh.  Could you cancel that?  I don’t really want them anyway.

The woman on the till signals desperately to the shelf stacker. She

doesn’t respond.

 I’ll run and replace them on the shelf, I suggest helpfully.

The person behind swears under their breath.

I rush back, having gone round anti-clockwise to avoid being trapped

in the other aisle which is being re-stocked.

Do you collect school vouchers?

Flustered, I reply, No, I’ve got plenty of schoolsI take the wretched

tokens anyway.

Please scan your next item, says the scanner to the person who was

behind me and who has given up on personal service and switched


Would you like to continue?

Hold on, he says. I haven’t done the first one yet.

Please hold the line while we try to connect you.  The person you are

calling knows you are waiting.

Wait a minute. That’s not right, I think, as I pack everything into

the scratchy bag I made from the hair shirt I won for the martyrdom of

supermarket shopping.

Malfunction, says the scanner.  Item not recognised.

The vicar- for indeed it is he who has sworn, albeit softly- appeals to

the employee who had been processing my transaction, since she is

theoretically free now, though I haven’t quite packed all my items.

The scanner isn’t working.

Why doesn’t he anoint it with Extra Virgin and say a prayer?

What is it you tried to scan?  she says, looking as if she believes that

he has deliberately stopped it.  I think about Moses holding back The

Red Sea, or Joshua halting the progress of the sun.

Everyone in the queue looks over.




Just this tube of Anusol.  He tries to brazen it out, but his red neck against

the white dog collar betrays his emotion.

There are two for the price of one at the moment and it wants to charge me


The assistant shouts, Alex!! This gentleman wants the special offer on the


It’s only on the 800g ones, Alex says triumphantly.  And we don’t have those

at this branch.

Everyone is quite involved by now. The manager comes over, reeking of

cigarette smoke and looking puzzled, as if wondering why anyone would

want two tubes of aforementioned item for one orifice.

I lift my bag and the hemp handles gave way, decanting a bottle of Jacob’s

Creek onto the floor.  So much for trying to save the planet.  I hope they

will recycle the glass.

Do you want to continue? repeats the scanner ad nauseam.

No, I’ve lost the will to live, I hiss, even though I am not the addressee.

I accept a plastic bag after all and have my green point deducted.

I stumble through the, thankfully, automatic glass door and straight into

a well-wrapped up figure, strategically blocking the exit.

Big Issue?

No thanks, I say, shoving some school vouchers into his gloved hand.

Anything to get out of here.

Actually, that’s a lot of Anusol, I think, on my way home.  He must

get through a lot. Maybe I should look into Johnson and Johnson’s share

price and get rid of Tesco from my ISA.  Maybe the vicar is in the know,

or maybe he has just confused Balm of Gilead with Balsam of Peru, which

I understand is a constituent ingredient.

No, I am not revealing how I know that.  I just like reading packets.


They call it Tucks in the USA.