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Computers with eyes on

The queues were so long that I went to the self-service checkout. (These have been introduced recently, by replacing service checkouts, and have thereby increased the queues throughout the store). They are fully interactive and come with a touch-screen, scanner and bagging tray, as well as a loudmouthed female voice shouting instructions at the top of the human auditory scale.

The Bagging Area

The screen asks if you have your own bags, which I did, along with two Sainsbury's plastic boxes. I placed them on the bagging area stainless steel tray, as requested by the screen, and received a blast from loudmouth saying that there were unauthorised bags in the bagging area, and I had to seek help, seek help...seek help, seek help...

After another admonishment from the touch screen to remove any unauthorised bags, I took the Sainsbury's boxes, guessing (correctly) that the design brief had forgotten about this earlier green initiative. I put them on the floor at my feet, which is very inconvenient, as one is trying to scan products lifted from a trolley at waist height on the right, and place them onto the bagging tray, low down on the left, with Sainsbury's boxes in the way. About two minutes later, after 98% of the people in the store had gone by, tutting and sucking air between their teeth while simultaneously looking upwards for divine intervention, a human, disguised as a Sainsbury's employee, came and explained that you can't put Sainsbury's boxes on the bagging tray. Where can you put them then? Just leave them on the floor, all right? How convenient! She waved a card in front of the price scanner and loudmouth became silent, stifling her demands for retribution and limb removal.

So I began scanning products and placing them on the bagging tray. This special stainless steel tray checks the weight of each item, after it is gingerly placed, gingerly because, by this time, one suspects divine intervention. The tray, of course, is weighing each item to prevent fraudulent subterfuge. (You could scan a packet of crisps and place a bottle of Scotch in the bagging area without this check, couldn't you?)


The first item, as it normally is, was an alcoholic beverage. Loudmouth started complaining immediately, shouting at the top of her voice that authorisation was required. Human reappeared, noted I was almost dead of age and alcohol abuse, and waved a special card to shut up loudmouth, and I continued to scan other items in relative anonymity. This was fairly silently done, until I got to the fresh store-baked bread. Could I find it in the A to Z touch screen menu? You're right, I couldn't, and neither could human in the Sainsbury's disguise. So human had to fetch a full colour illustrated card from a service checkout and wave it in front of loudmouth.

Premature Bagging

By this time the bagging area was full, and I thought I should take some items and put them in my Sainsbury's boxes, inconveniently placed on the floor at my feet. I took a leek and dropped it into a box. Loudmouth immediately began to hurl abuse at me, without pausing for breath, that this was an illegal, and highly dubious activity in public, and that supervision was required without delay. Naturally, I was shamed into stopping at once, replacing said leek onto the bagging tray, praying it didn't fall off the top of the precariously balanced Gu desserts, and saying a few Hail Marys. The human reappeared and soothed loudmouth with a few waves of her special card. (I wish I had one, I really do).

Paying, Bagging and Receipting

Now it was time to pay. I had to press the finish button, wave my Nectar card to earn loyalty points (which human had to do for me, as I had the wrong wrist action), insert my credit card, enter the number of my own bags (I had incorrectly and unforgivably tried to use), enter my PIN number, and placate loudmouth with a small bow of gratitude.

Only now could I begin to bag and box my items without being harangued and despised in public by loudmouth who, while I was otherwise preoccupied bagging and boxing, printed out my receipt, and, in a final show of power, sent it gliding into the two millimetre gap between the stainless steel tray of the bagging area and the scanning machinery. I managed to fish it out, eventually, using a Swiss Army Knife, some string and a bit of chewing gum, without anyone noticing, or loudmouth deafening the 2% of the store that hadn't been able to hear the previous outbursts.

Loudmouth, you are doomed. I left a small device in that 2mm gap, timed to go off at midnight...


Today I went to my recently refurbished and much expanded Waitrose store. I was greeted like a long lost member of a privileged club, handed half a dozen green bags made of jute, and registered to use the hand-held scanner. As I wandered around, putting produce into my new bags, scanning each one as I went along, in total silence apart from the occasional beep, I thought of loudmouth. I finished shopping, paid, and put the gleaming bags of goodies into the car. What a difference!

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