I’ve had cause over the last week, to visit all the supermarkets in my home town and found myself feeling very out of place in most of them. I’ve found out that as well as a price war there’s also a class war taking place which left me feeling in some cases very middle class and in others very out of place. I’ve discovered that its not just the uniforms which separate these cathedrals of retailling but also a very deliberate cultural divide exists between them and where you shop says as much about you as your car or your clothes do . The Co-op for example tells me at every opportunity that they support fair trade produce and good for them, but the fairness seems to run out when it comes to how much they charge me once I get to the till. but on the plus side they do appear to never close, so whenever the need for a late Sunday evening snack crops up they are at least open for business. Londis is just up the road and does a similar job, but it has the product offering of a village fete stall so it’s claim to be convenient fails dramatically. Unless I need to buy a late night copy of a pre read newspaper, a day old croissant or some suspect looking fruit n veg this isn’t the store for me either. So I therefore find myself drawn to the big stores in town but these aren’t without fault either.
At the top of the town is a fairly new waitrose which I suspect has been deliberately built at the top of the town so that it’s customers can look down at everyone else as they leave. Virtually right outside the door is a zebra crossing meaning that patrons don’t have the inconvenience of having to wait to cross the road as the traffic duly stops for them.Drive into the car park though and it becomes clear that not only do all waitrose customers drive either Volkswagens or land rover evoques,there are also plenty of spaces to park them in and there all quite close to the store entrance. Once inside it’s apparent that the customer base consists of the retired and the soon to be retired, and although there wasn’t one there, had there been an instore sales promotion it would have been on behalf of saga. Product wise the stores have all the usual Kellogg’s and Heinz produce but no ‘basics’ or ‘value’ products here, so if you want aardvark and heron soup you probably could but if you want a 50p tin your out of luck. Something strange happens though when you go to checkout, something that I’m not that used to as when you get to the conveyor belt not only does there not appear to be a queue but the assistant isn’t a spotty school leaver or even a middle age lady with more facial hair than me but is actually an affable guy who deals with me courteously, doesn’t patronise me by asking if I need help to pack my sandwich and coke bottle and gives me a bag which doesn’t biodegrade before I get back to the car.
A few rungs down the social ladder takes me to Asda. A revolving door which appears to confuse everybody ushers me through the door where two choices present themselves, either left to a jumble sale run by George or right to the food….and I wrongly chose left. The jumble sale opened up to include an unofficial crèche where packs of women abandon their children in search of leggings and cheap shoes, and then turn excitedly to their men folk to ask them what they think once an item has been selected, only to find that their men folk have in fact wondered off in search of the dvd section. The food section then comes into view and it’s everything waitrose isn’t as it appears that budget and basics is ALL that they sell. The plastic green basket I’ve been given is designed to be deep in order to fit lots of stuff into,and the trolleys are designed to travel in any direction except the one the driver intends but in this store it’s not direction that proves an issue, it’s the phenomenon of trolley abandonment. This is where the pusher of the trolley strolls aimlessly down the aisle and then rather than take the trolley with them they abandon it causing everyone else to get blocked in and unable to get past them, even if lots of glares are given and heads are shaken it has no effect on the knob that’s left it there. Like many times when I’ve been in supermarkets, I tend to enter a kind of combat mode and when I discover the abandoned trolley I have two methods of dealing with it, number one is the ram raid approach of pushing it loudly out of the way and number two is quickly finding a load of stuff to throw into it in the hope they’ll not notice and pay for it. Once I managed to put a 5ft long vileda supamop into someone’s trolley without them seeing me do it and I then hung around to see their reaction, When they came back to it they actually thought it was someone else’s and wondered off in search of their own.
Then last week I had the misfortune to find myself in Morrisons. Parking wasn’t a problem which was good but then I was to witness two very odd sights before even getting inside the shop. The first one was watching a group of teenage girls dressed in various types of leopard print clothing leave the store and finding it necessary to verbally abuse each other using words that would embarrass a docker.The second was watching a woman punching a Labrador in the face. Still taken aback at what I’d seen I went to get a trolley but was to discover that to stop people stealing them (?) they are chained up and require a pound coin to release them. Having no change meant I had to get some money out of the cashpoint and going in to queue up to buy a paper simply to get the change to free the trolley. After passing through the dimply lit entrance I find myself in the food equivalent of poundland,only a poundland where most of the customers wear pyjamas and ugg boots to go shopping. One in 3 people here seemed to have misunderstood the concept of shopping where you place the items into a trolley with a view to taking it home to eat and instead see the whole store as some kind of giant buffet where you eat your shopping on the go and simply pay for a bunch of wrappers at the end.Without doubt this is a god awful place. The aisles aren’t wide enough to allow two people to pass each other, the lighting is so bad that it’s advisable to wear a miners helmet and the only aisle not chockablock is the one containing soap and deodorant. But all of this pales into insignificance compared to what’s involved when trying to pay. I had elected to use a manned checkout but upon approaching them it became apparent that the staff were actually the Orc’s from the ‘lord of the rings’ films so I decided to to use the automated checkout.
When deciding what voice they were going to use for this machine top consideration must have been to chose the most patronising one possible. With each item scanned through the till it tells me to ‘please put the item in the bag’ EVERY F*****G TIME!!!! Why does it do this? Does it think that on item four I’d forget? At the end of scanning I get the option of how to pay which is fair enough, then I get options for coupons and offers blah blah blah, I put my card then pin in then once authorised I get the longest till receipt ever and the largest plastic bags in history. A walk of shame on the way out takes me past the customer service desk where a fat bloke is trying to convince the customer service assistant that the cake he’s trying to return is “not very nice” and despite three quarters of it having been eaten he’s demanding a refund as he “knows his rights”. I can’t wait to leave this place and I resort to abandoning my trolley in the car park and I’m half way home before I realise I’d not claimed my pound back. This caused me to say a rude word, outloud.
So this leaves me in a position where I’m too poor to shop in waitrose, to posh to shop in Morrisons and luckily to far away from my nearest Asda. Aldi doesn’t actually contain much more than a campsite shop and even if the world was coming to an end and I needed something quickly i’d never willingly visit a ‘one stop’ again unless like everyone else who shops there I needed £5 of gas, 5 scratch cards or 60 fags.Despite once getting the supermarket equivalent of an asbo from sainsburys I’m still allowed to shop there which is good news for me given that I live next door to it. This asbo was achieved when one day I was choosing some eggs and when I put a box of ‘basics’ ones in my trolley,some animal rights campaigner approached me and asked me if I knew the condition the chickens were kept in.When I told him I didn’t care if it had been forced to lay it at gunpoint quite a nasty row broke out, a fair amount of bad language was exchanged and I was asked to leave. So in conclusion I guess Sainsburys is my level, not too crap and not too posh its just about right for me. Next week I think I might check out my local Lidl superstore…..