Archive for August, 2013

Once upon a time, many many moons ago, there existed such things as market places. Veritable bazaars of rambunctious merchants bartering and bellowing their wares amidst the hazy, murky smog and assortment of odours.  Each vendor would  bargain and haggle, concocting intriguing and novel deals for their cash-strapped punters. Once the sun had set, their weary limbs and hoarse voices would head home knowing they had laboured and slogged for each and every penny. Thereafter came the Green Grocers shop, an Aladdin’s Cave of wonder which stocked, alongside the ordinary fruit and veg, exotic and curious articles like mangos and lard. One would arrive in such establishments to the tinkle of an excitable bell and a cheerful greeting from the moustached, apron clad proprietor and his delightful, eager daughter. This warm and welcoming bubble of trade would attempt, at any length, to cater for your every culinary requirement with a smile and an opening of the door as you exited the premises laden with goodies.

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Then came the ‘Supermarket,’ the ‘Superstore,’ the gargantuan arena of commerce, the monstrous carnival for the greedy, the spectacle of gluttony for the retail gannets. Gone were the market stalls and eccentric pedlars, gone were the corner shops and their happy owners, gone were the contented customers. Instead what we have been left with is anything but bloody ‘Super!’ Yes, agreed, these mammoth enclosures can cater for my every sordid whim from buffalo cheese to frilly knickers and decaffeinated latte powder to lawnmower engine oil. Yet what we have gained in choice and selection we appear to have lost, misplaced and vanished in the enjoyment of the purchase or indeed customer service.

The only possible amusement one can gain from the dreaded weekly shop is the simple pleasure of hanging onto the back of one’s trolley (provided you had the correct coinage to detach it from its fellow prisoners) launching oneself at high speed down each aisle and skidding on suitably slippery shoes (preparation, preparation, preparation) until one comes to a leisurely halt or crashes headlong into the baked bean shelves. Thereafter, once the gathering of your items is complete, the fun ends, the gloom settles and the reality of The Checkout Games begin.

It begins with selection of an appropriate checkout, one which is not currently populated by a bedraggled, despairing woman who is attempting to unload three months worth of shopping whilst the screaming toddler seated in the trolley endeavours to beat her to death with a grubby plastic doll. Once this first mission is complete, one then draws a ticket from the Wretched Hat of Miserable Service Employee as to whether one will be presented with a pleasant cashier or something which appears to have crawled to Sainsbury’s directly from the crypt of doom. More often than not, my ticket from the Wretched Hat of Miserable Service Employee has been laughed at, shredded and spat upon until I am served by something which can only be described as being one molecule away from an amoeba.

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T’were not so long ago that checkout ladies (as they were once so-called) would be friendly persons who would greet one with a smile and the formal pleasantries which accompany the serving of a customer. Perhaps it is simply my experience but I continue to be lumbered with some form of living organism who appears to have a variety of personal hygiene issues, hair and puss leaking from a collection of bizarre orifices and the personality of a dead gnat.

Game number one begins with the attempted exchange of civilities, which if one has been unlucky, is rather a one-sided and difficult game which normally ends rather swiftly in an uncomfortable silence with the checkout creature glaring at me with one twitching eyeball whilst the other watches the till. Game two consists of Draculas Grandmother glancing at the overflowing conveyor belt and enquiring through a mouthful of chewing gum and brown teeth whether I would ‘like a bag wiv that?’ Oh no dear, I thought I’d carry each of these 42 items bit by bit. Give me strength. Or at least two bags.

Game number three is a little more energetic and revolves around attempting to catch ones groceries into the waiting carrier bags as they are hurled at lightning speed across the scanner by gnarled fingers and scummy nails. I swear the ghastly woman is trying to catch me out. Game four is quite possibly the most infuriating and seems to require acrobatic balancing skills and sleight of hand of which I possess neither; once the transaction is complete the cretin behind the till will WITHOUT FAIL place the receipt and notes in ones hand and any remaining coinage on TOP. Thereafter begins the performance of grasping the paper in ones palm whilst simultaneously sliding said coinage into ones purse, a movement which I am yet master and which inevitably results in the clanging of coins to the floor, the frantic scrabble to locate them and the desperate avoidance of the death glare from the beastly cashier who is now winding gum round her scabby finger.

Should you have decided against this ritual, one can opt for the self service checkout, a decision which I’m never quite sure is better or worse. Agreed, I no longer have to converse with the frightful checkout entity yet I seem to be faced with another set of problems. These tribulations arrive in the form of a Fembot who, like most women, are very nice to begin with; ‘Hello and welcome to Sainsbury’s, please press the Start key to begin…’ yet her pleasant nature quickly passes and with every slight inaccuracy she morphs into some menopausal witch, ‘place your ITEMS in the BAGGING AREA,’ who becomes more irate with every passing second until she gives up entirely, shrieks ‘ PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE’ and stomps off in a huff until she can be coaxed back with a gentle stroking by a passing cashier. Not only am I now completely mortified to have received a telling off from a machine for being completely incapable of passing an item over a piece of glass but I now have to hop up and down in the vicinity of my shopping whilst trying to catch the eye of a teenage cashier who seems intent on loitering near the doorway and ignoring my cries for help. And all this in front of an assortment of impatient shoppers who have now come to the conclusion that I’m a blithering idiot. Until it’s their turn.

From someone who has worked these jobs, ghastly though they may be, ‘tis not so hard to be pleasant and agreeable to a customer. Yet sadly, the majority of these workers take no pride in their jobs or even try to pretend. Rarely do we enjoy our daily tasks but surely it doesn’t hurt to smile. Or wash.

Oh, give me cheery greengrocer chaps, give me lovely checkout ladies, give me boisterous market traders where everything is ‘four for a paaaaand’ and my bananas are served with a cheeky wink. Sigh.

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