SOMERS ON SERTRALINE rants about..........Shopping!!

AISLE BE BACK!!

(OR, A SAFEWAY TO SHOP)

All right lets not mince words. I hate shopping. I don’t mean dislike or have an aversion to or can’t be doing with, I mean hate, despise, loathe. To me shopping is dead time and I resent the waste of that precious commodity that I could more profitably employ doing other more
important and fulfilling things like writing, wandering lonely as a cloud or even cleaning the cat’s litter tray.
Women on the other hand appear to have a shopping gene, a biological impetus that makes the very act of wandering around a supermarket or a store not simply pleasure to them but an overwhelming experience of sensory pyrotechnics.

Don’t believe me? Right. When I go shopping on my own I sit down beforehand and create a virtual supermarket in my head, the identical twin of the one in which we shop. I walk in through the doors pushing my virtual trolley - I can tell it isn’t a real one because it goes wherever I want it to go - and enter the first aisle. What’s in this aisle? Fruit and veg. So I write down the items of fruit and veg that I want as I come to them in my mind. Next alley? Fresh meat. I write down the steak and the pork and the chicken. I do this for every aisle in this imaginary Sainsbury’s that I go through until I have a shopping list of items in the exact order that I’m going to come across them in the real supermarket.
Who said "anally retentive"?

I then go to the real supermarket and walk up and down the actual aisles collecting the items on my list as I come to them; a process that takes no more than about twenty minutes, because it’s smooth, organised and methodical.
There are, however, two minor problems with this utopian scenario.

Did I say minor?

Firstly I am rarely allowed to go shopping on my own because I cannot be trusted to do the job properly and will inevitably come back minus a good number of those things for which I have been sent. The concept that these items were not available apparently being barred from
the equation. Before I got married I was naively unaware that the act of shopping requires the intellect and dexterity of a neuro-surgeon, however my wife very quickly put me straight on this point. No, with the very few exceptions of when she is ill and completely incapacitated I am expected to accompany her and watch in slack-jawed wonder at displays of her superior skill in the task of dropping items of grocery into a metal basket on wheels. Of course, if that were all there were to it I would simply bite the bullet and follow her around much in the same manner that the other husbands do (after their own wives of course). Sadly this is not the case.
My virtual shopping trip consists of reading the list, locating the item and putting it in the trolley.

This is because I do not have the shopping gene. I am not genetically driven to reading the labels on packets and tins and commenting on the calorific value or the fat content. I am not compelled by forces beyond my control to sample sprays of every available fragrance of deodorant before choosing the one that I buy every week. I am not biologically predisposed to squeeze each and every loaf of bread on the shelf in order to determine which is the freshest.
Nor do I experience the irresistible desire to examine items that I have not even the slightest intention of buying: "Hmmm this charcoal is really cheap. If we had a barbecue I’d buy some of this."

As a consequence our joint safaris around Sainsbury’s tend to be around one and a half hours in duration rather than the twenty minutes that my solo efforts take.
If this was the entirety of my problem then I could probably be seen as an unreasonable whinger, as I’m sure that around fifty per-cent of the readers of this piece have already designated me. Sadly this is not the extent of my dissatisfaction. No, to reach the full extent of my hatred you have to factor in 'other people'. A broad term admittedly so let’s try to narrow it down, after all the world is full of other people and not all of them piss me off. The other people that I’m talking about are the empty-headed simpletons whose mission in life is to hang around public places making a complete nuisance of themselves. If you’ve ever been in a supermarket at a busy time you’ll recognise them immediately.

Firstly there are the long lost friends who haven’t seen each other since Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and have so much to catch up on. Having recognised one another these people, usually two husbands and their respective wives, scour the aisles until they find an assistant unloading groceries from a pallet that already blocks half of the aisle’s width. They then stand in the remaining gap and block it completely while they recount what they’ve been doing for every second of every day of every week since the last time they met. I fully expect to one day turn into an aisle and find half of it blocked by a pallet loaded with cartons of washing powder and the other half rendered impassable by four people sitting around a French café table enjoying an intimate candle-lit dinner or watching someone’s holiday slides projected onto a screen draped across three shelves of washing up liquid.


Then there are those people suffering from a particularly virulent form of myopia. There you are, standing a reasonable distance from the shelves, deciding which particular brand and flavour of soup you fancy when along comes Mr. Magoo. Completely oblivious to your presence he promptly interposes himself between you and whatever it was you were considering and proceeds to examine everything on the shelves from a distance of about two microns. As though equipped with some highly sensitive, backward facing radar he then mimics every side step and manoeuvre that you make in an effort to see round him, thereby ensuring that wherever you are he is always between you and whatever it is that you want.
Finally after five minutes of formation dancing you give up and walk away. But don’t worry, he’ll find you again before you leave. He may not be able to read anything unless it has been surgically attached to the end of his nose but wherever you go in that cavernous cathedral of modern commerce, he’ll be with you again before your blood pressure has even had the chance to return to normal.

Another thorn in my side is the extended family and I don’t mean that in the sociological sense. I mean the sort of family that go shopping together - mother, father, three kids - and they want to buy, say, hamburgers at some point. Now clearly this is a decision of such far-reaching consequences that it requires the active involvement of the entire clan. So whilst you’re trying to just dip into the freezer and grab a bag of oven chips, this crew is strung out along its entire length, with their trolley pushed up against the side for added inconvenience.
And they whitter on and on about how Wayne doesn’t like the ones with onion and maybe they should get quarter pounders or what about these that have buns with them or those that have a slice of cheese and a jar of relish as well or perhaps we should get grillsteaks because there’s more in them but then Tiffany probably wouldn’t eat a full one and it would just go to waste and ooooh look at these they’re made with pork instead of beef because of mad cow disease but I’m not sure I’d like them perhaps we’re better off sticking with what we know and why do they call them hamburgers anyway when they’re made with beef. So finally they pick something and move away but you’ve been waiting so long that you’ve fallen into a light doze and before you have chance to react to their departure and grab your oven chips, Mr. Magoo re-appears and slips into the gap. You decide you’ll come back for the oven chips.

Then you get to the check-outs, but which one do you use? There’s the 'Express Check-out', a misnomer if there ever was one because there’s always a line of twenty people in front of it. But you can’t use this one because you’ve got more than ten items and you haven’t had the nous to divide your shopping up between two baskets like the bloke ahead of you. Or the sheer front to queue up with about thirty items piled up in a single basket with an expression on your face that dares anyone to challenge you like the fat woman ahead of him. So what’s the alternative? You can’t use the extra wide checkout because that’s for people in wheelchairs or those pushing the trolleys wide enough to hold two babies. Nor can you use the 'cash only' tills because you want to pay with a debit card. So you have to use one of the bog standard checkouts but wait a minute! Every single one of the 'specialist' tills is manned but only one in four of the bog standard ones are operating and consequently there are huge queues at each of them. It appears that if you are an able-bodied, child-free adult with a weekly shop who prefers the security of shopping using a Switch card rather than lugging wads of cash around with you then you’re regarded as a member of a minority. Still, there’s no way around it so you get in line and wait. You get in line behind the rest of the social outcasts who belong to the elite social group to which the supermarket management has condemned you. Two in front of you is the man with a carton of milk, a tin of Mr. Sheen, a box of matches and seventy-two cans of Pedigree Chum, all rabbit flavour. Just ahead of him is the woman with two dozen items all of which have those fluorescent 'Reduced' labels on them; you can imagine their family meals can’t you: "Come on, eat faster it’s all going off!". Then there’s the bloke that gets paid monthly and thinks he’s legally obliged to shop with the same frequency, so he has two trolleys fastened together with a webbing belt and looks like one of those continental lorries that cut you up on the Autoroute. Both of these trolleys are piled up to almost his height and his bill is the same as the defence budget for Soviet Russia. Not to worry, eventually you reach the end of the conveyor belt with only a single person in front of you. But although the light should be at the end of the tunnel any hopes you had of a streamlined exit are dashed by the presence of the person who can only do one thing at once.

Their shopping is trundling merrily along the conveyor belt towards the end where they are struggling to pack it at a slightly slower rate than it is bearing down on them. In fairness this is not entirely their fault and at least fifty percent of the blame should be shouldered by those infernal plastic carrier bags. You know the ones I mean, don’t you. Yes the ones that you need a degree in astrophysics to separate. So by the time all their groceries have gone through and shuffled down the conveyor belt they’ve only just finished packing the first carrier bag with another seven or eight to do. But they can only do one thing at once so they concentrate solely on filling their bags. It’s at this point that they develop that curious sensory deprivation that people who make a career out of pissing other people off seem to universally suffer from.

They don’t see that the conveyor belt has stopped running; they don’t see the checkout operator sitting idly waiting for payment; they don’t see you waiting to put the rest of your shopping on the belt or hear your sharp inhalations of breath. No they focus entirely on packing, sorry, very slowly packing the remainder of their groceries away. They don’t pay the poor girl so that she can get on with tilling the payment through, no she just has to sit there wearing an increasingly strained, professionally polite smile, occasionally making apologetic faces at you as you feel your life force draining away. But eventually they finish packing their carrier bags and the next stage in the process begins. First comes the hunt for the purse in a handbag that appears to have the interior dimensions of the Tardis. They start rummaging first, moving stuff about inside the bag. Then when the purse doesn’t turn up they empty out the contents of the bag onto the conveyor belt, all the usual stuff: keys, make up bag, handkerchief, stuffed moose head, complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Eventually the purse is located and the second stage of the search kicks off. This person will have a Switch card, at least three credit cards, store cards for all major high street retail outlets and loyalty cards for every supermarket in the western hemisphere. In addition to that they also have their library card, the swipe card for the car-park barrier at work, the entry tickets from the trip to Disneyland and a dozen other superfluous rectangular pieces of plastic all bundled together and crammed into a compartment that was intended to hold no more than two cards. What’s more the one or two that they want will never be at the front. Now I don’t know about you but my Switch card is always at the front of my wallet on the principle that it’s the one I’m most likely to want. But not this one, no, no, no, no. It would appear that when they pay for something at a till these people do it as though they were Paul Daniels. They whip out a handful of plastic and fan it out in front of the checkout operator saying, "Pick a card, any card. Right look at it, swipe it and put it back into the pack.". And having done that they shuffle the whole deck and shove them back into the wallet in a completely random arrangement. Still, at last they’ve paid, now perhaps we can till ours through. Wrong! The first thing they have to do is replace the detritus they’ve removed from the handbag and having done that they then spend another five minutes rummaging around in the newly loaded bag until it’s returned to its original state of chaos. Steady on now because it’s not over yet. The next stage involves placing all the filled carrier bags in the basket then re-arranging them at least five times so that they form an aesthetically pleasing gestalt. Finally they mutter their thanks and begin to move away but just as you and the checkout operator start to move again, they turn back. "Do I need my car park ticket stamping?" they ask. I know what I’d like to fucking stamp!

Next stop the car park and if you thought that having left the store your troubles are over, think again. I’m sorry but those 'other people' also use the car park and their behaviour does not improve despite the geographical shift. They were there when you drove in, remember.
They were the people who were unable to park a car the size of a matchbox model in a space big enough to accommodate the Titanic; they were the people who insisted walking right up the middle of the road with their trolley while you were trying to pass; they were the people who drove the wrong way along a stretch of roadway presumably because they hadn’t noticed the unobtrusive, six-foot long white arrow pointing in the opposite direction. What’s more they’re still there. Not necessarily in person but their presence can still be felt in the shopping trolley that's left exactly where it was when they finished emptying it, usually immediately behind your car. They’re there blocking your way while they wait for two-trolley guy to finish unloading his shopping into the boot because they want his space. They’re at the car-park barrier as Mr. Magoo holds up every piece of paper in every capacious pocket of his parka, squinting at it in the poor light of his car’s interior, looking for his parking ticket. Then, in a single bound, you’re free and positively euphoric until you realise that you have to do it all again next week. With the realisation that you are a creature of habit and always shop on the same day at the same time at the same supermarket comes the devastating revelation that SO IS EVERYONE ELSE!!!!!!!! So next week the long lost friends will be there, so will Mr. Magoo, and the extended family, and two-trolleys, and the dog food fan and all the others.
Hang on. Don’t Tesco do on-line shopping?

MIKE SOMERS is a freelance writer from Stockport, England. He provides additional material to PALMER & PROZAC'S SITE FOR SORE EYES. He would like to take this opportunity to point out that the wife referred to in this piece bears no resemblance whatsoever to his own lovely spouse and is simply a caricature constructed as nothing more than a hyperbolic artistic device.
Mike Somers is known for allegedly being continually asked to attend police line-ups in association with crimes against members of the public whose only connection is that they all appear to have well-stocked larders.
He also empahtically denies ever using the words, 'whack', 'clip', 'waste', 'off' or 'contract'. You can see more of his observations and Rants on the SITE FOR SORE EYES soon.
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