Saturday, August 24, 2002

Here's some more writing I did when I first arrived in London. Ahh, the innocence of my lost Australia sensibilities to the wildness of life in London ...

To an outsider, supermarkets in Britain can be a little daunting both in size and content.

Now I'm no stranger to the 'Supa' Supermarket. I mean one only has to visit a Coles or Safeway in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne to understand that phenomenon. However, when it comes to the British supermarket I have found I've had to draw on my reserves of quick wittedness...

To begin, when I first walked into a full sized Tesco [as opposed to a Tesco Express]everything was different - there was hardly a brand on the shelves that I recognised. In the early days I found myself buying extra tubes of Colgate toothpaste simply cause it was a brand I knew and possessing them somehow brought me an odd sense of comfort. Undoubtedly the most disturbing aisle was the one full of biscuits. McVities seemed to have a monopoly in the dunking business and there was not a Tim Tam or Teddy Bear biscuit in sight.

Imagine my dismay when after weeks of trawling I couldn't even find a close substitute for the humble Scotch Finger biscuit. Things were not looking good. I experimented with all sorts of cruel imitations but nothing satisfied and alas, nothing came close. But as the months went by I have found that those quaint shaped biscuits have since become my friends and I'm now a firm fan of McVities digestives. There is nothing like a couple of rounds with a hot cup of PG Tips at the end of a nice meal.

Sorry, I stray.

I find that the supermarket is an odd beast. It can be soothingly therapeutic in the times when chaos rules my world. To aimlessly wander down those neatly stacked aisles brings an inexplicable order to my whirling mind. And then, in those moments when time is of the essence I silently curse the fluorescent wasteland as I crash my way around desperately seeking egg noodles.

Now, as much as I've grown to love the Tesco & Sainsburys experience the one thing that turns me into that tourist again is the checkout counter. Both supermarket chains have a lovely ambience, wonderfully ordered shelves and clear signage but I fear the one thing they lack is service at the check out.
I know I go on about the British Service Industry but read on before you cast me into the Bloody Australian Basket.

At home Supermarkets offer what I would describe as a 'well rounded' service.

That is, you are expected to push the trolley around the aisles, pick the items from the shelves, place them in the cart. Then, when you are done wandering, you take your purchases to the row of numbered cash registers manned by smiling assistants who watch you place your items on the sensitised surface that moves your goods over to their reach. Now this, dear readers, is where your job ends and their job starts. They then take over the task and after scanning each item, they place said items into those ecologically unfriendly plastic bags.

Now in their mind this task is not a random event. These people are trained in the art of shoppingbagpacking - and by God they know their stuff. They know not to place that bag of sliced bread underneath those cans of tomatoes. They also understand that the dozen eggs you so carefully carted to the check-out go into a shopping bag all by themselves! Listen to me people - this is a specialised field of endeavour - it was never, ever intended to be undertaken by the masses! Why then does a country so advanced in so many ways leave such important handling to plebs like you and me??

Not only do we pack wrong - but as soon as the first bottle of still water is scanned the race is on.

You grab that bottle in one hand whilst madly groping the slippery supply of shopping bags with the other at the same time you watch in horror as item after item is slides towards you in a torrent of shopping that you can't stop 'cause that check out chick moves like lightning and then the time comes to pay but your shopping has slid faster than you pack and has quietly piled up at the end of the counter and the plastic flies as you desperately dig around your enormous bag for your purse and she's waiting - oh yes, she's waiting and the line of shoppers is growing and you fight the rising panic as you realise that there is no way you are going to achieve the perfect pack and pay at the same time and you look around wildly for someone to rescue from the madness that is packing your own shopping!!


Reading: Can't decide.
Listening to: 'Daybreaker', Beth Orton [trying to listen to] 'Everything Everything', Underworld. [Ian hates them but I love then – and going to see them live in November – whoohoo!]


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