Mission Impossible (or at the very least aggravating)
When did Supermarkets turn into reality Japanese games shows?
There was a time wasn't there when one savoured the shopping experience, even the supermarket shopping experience? Browsing through the aisles toying with brand A and then delightfully discovering brand B, the one that you saw in the advert the night before, where the gorgeous man swept you (having mentally replaced the actress playing opposite him), off your feet with the heady aroma of instant coffee.
The thrill of trolleys that glided effortlessly over smooth sparkling floors, the tempting fruits from exotic lands evoking images of palm trees, teasing you away from the mundane and transporting you to a fantasy world of unashamed luxury.
Checkout counters that carried your precious purchases, unaided, to the crisp carrier bags so thoughtfully provided. The happy smile from the cashier, hoping you will enjoy the rest of your day and 'do you need a hand out to your car with your packages?'
Take for example the cigarette kiosk, where you may purchase up to five non-tobacco related items. The queue is twenty deep. The dragon immediately in front of you has at least fifteen items in her basket and from the chorus of 'tutting' you can only assume that the vicar (four in front of the dragon) is groping the primary school headmistress.
The cashier is either a trainee or miserably menopausal and occasionally both. The ubiquitous lottery machine has broken down - again and Mrs Green from number sixty-seven doesn't understand why they don't have a weighing machine for her grapes, she was sure they did last week. They have never had a weighing machine on the cigarette counter.
'Can you pass me twenty Bensons?' Shouts Gladys from aisle nine.
'Twenty what?' gawps the menopausal trainee.
'Bensons' spit the twenty strong queue in unison, relieved at being able to use an alternative to 'tut'.
'No I can't, I've run out of Bensons.' Bleats the cashier. Is there a manager around? The lottery machine's jammed again and someone's going to have to go to the store room for the cigarettes.'
Absolutely no response from any checkout as the familiar epidemic of selective deafness spreads with margarine like ease from cashier to cashier.
'Honestly!' The queue is getting restless. 'This shop gets worse and worse.'
Actually it can't get any worse; there is no lower level capable of supporting its awfulness.
Andy the assistant manager eventually arrives.
'Is there a problem?'
Suddenly all the checkout staff can hear again.
'Andy, I need a need some change and it's my break now, can I close after the next customer?'
'Andy can you change this pint of milk for me? it's leaking again. We had the same trouble last week. Gary said he was going to have a word with the dairy. Look it's all over my skirt.'
Has one got time to reach across to the newspaper stand and pick up a crossword? It is almost certainly going to take most of the lunch hour to reach the front of the queue. No, if you lose your place now you'll end up being number thirty-five without a hope of paying for your sandwich before the afternoon school run. You could try conversation.
'Oh hello Mrs Meadows haven't seen you for a while, how are you?'
You knew before you opened your mouth it was a mistake.
Mr Meadows it seems has been 'up the orspital' all morning. Apparently they did some artwork on his neck in black magic marker, said he couldn't have anything to eat or drink for twenty-four hours and had to report back at eight in the morning - with his pyjamas.
'Ooooh, my Alf had that.'
Thank God. Someone else is bored. You dip gracefully out of the fascinating repartee and back to the sullen salami queue.
What next? Pelvic floor exercises might relieve the boredom. Oh look we're on the move.
Now that wasn't very clever.
'Andy I've just dropped the eggs! What do I do now?'
Get the sack? Go on your tea break? Emigrate?
Most of the counter and a fair sized puddle of floor space are now decorated with a dozen value range eggs... none of them hard-boiled or inside their shells.
'We'll have to close the counter. Phone upstairs and get a sign brought down.'
'What sign do you want Andy, the special offers?'
Do they have any kind of in house training or is it enough to pass the absolute incompetence test?
Finally a new checkout is opened and our hero Andy takes control leaving the menopausal trainee to mop up the omelette.
The relief of finally passing through the jammed automatic doors is only slightly diminished by the realisation that you need to pay the telephone bill. Oh joy - next stop the Post Office.