PC 23 Observations on shopping

Being a bit of a Metro Man, I went off with Celina to Waitrose the other afternoon to buy some bits and pieces for my birthday party – you know the sort of thing; wine offers, bubbly offers, cheese anyone, hummus (Oh! No! That will drop onto the carpet) still and sparkling water, cold meats and the makings of salads, as we have had some deliciously warm weather for late October. The cakes were already made.

Picked the wrong supermarket trolley, the one where one of its wheels does pirouettes completely independently of the other three, as if it is pleased to be used. The first decision to make is do you follow the store layout, fresh fruit and vegetables first and then at the far end, past the wines and spirits, the cleaning products or do it in reverse, as you want to get the heavy items, like a pack of 6 Evian water for the price of 5, into the trolley first. ….. and the salad bits on top? But then you reverse it when you unpack it at the check-out! I’m sure the supermarkets spend a fortune on researching just this sort of conundrum.

My dear mother sometimes comes to mind when I shop …… as in the days before our style of supermarkets, it was the local village shop that provided most basics. She would prepare a long list on the back of an old envelope, sit by the dial telephone, and ring Balcombe Stores – I think the number was Balcombe 258. She then dictated what she wanted, Mr Turner wrote it all down, and the next day his delivery van would arrive with a hamper or two full of the groceries. Once checked, and paid for, she then would take off all the price labels from the items, as she felt it was vulgar to show what you paid for things. But then the world’s turned full circle – I go online, no longer ‘dial-up’ but the parallel is there, find the Waitrose website, book a delivery slot, choose my items, pay ….. and the boxes arrive at my front door. And I can’t take the price stickers off because they are not there! Would I? Er! Funny life innit?

In Fleet in Hampshire, where I lived for a few years, there was the most delightful hardware store. It sold everything, its window full of boxes of fans, telephones, electric drills, security locks, fire alarms …. some so discoloured by the sun one wondered whether they had passed their sell-by date. Inside was an Aladdin’s cave of goodies for the house/home owner. But the most remarkable thing about the shop was the two white-haired old ladies who served behind the counter. Dressed in traditional brown coats, they had been there for many, many years, were probably a little dusty themselves ….. but consequently knew what the stock was and more importantly where it was. I watched with fascination; someone would come into the shop, hesitantly describe what they were looking for; some gadget, some tool, some fixture, some fitting, some screw or fastening – often they would draw a picture or produce a rusty broken piece from their pocket. “Ah! Yes!” Margaret would say, and shuffle off to the rear, put a wooden step-ladder up against the shelving, and climb to the top, showing to those of us watching out for her safety, her support stockings. Triumphant, she would reverse her journey, carrying a small cardboard box. Opening it in front of the expectant customer, unwrapping the oiled paper, she would display the item: “This is it, Sir!” ……. and sure enough it was!

Out on the waterways of England in a narrow boat some years ago, after a particularly rainy day I was drenched. Sam’s parents were joining for supper, and asked whether they could bring anything?  “A pair of dry trousers?” They arrived with a bag containing some new jeans. “How much do I owe you?” “Well, they were 25% off, so £3.00!” “£3?? It’s not possible!” Why pay £175 for a pair of designer jeans when you can get ones that do the job for £3 from Sainsburys Supermarket? They fitted! Perfect ….. and then actually I felt awful. How could a pair of trousers cost only £3. Child labour …. sweat shops ….. morally reprehensible ???? I still wear them 5 years on, and I still think we live in a crazy world.

I needed a large rug to go in our apartment …… and ‘large’ meant ‘enormous’ …. actually more than two and a half metres square. I looked locally … then looked online …….. found just what I wanted ….. ordered it, paid for it …… on a Thursday ……. and it arrived on the following Tuesday ….. air-freighted from …… Wisconsin!! Funny world, innit?

Many years ago I invested in a Gaggia coffee maker. I was reminded just how good an investment it was when our delightful neighbour admitted spending some £80 per month …. on her morning coffee at the café around the corner. Now I know that sitting in a café gives one the opportunity to people watch, and I love people watching ….. and that sitting in the comfort of one’s own home sipping a Latte or Americano isn’t the same but  ……

If I need something from John Lewis, a London-based department store, I can order it before 1600  ……… and collect it from its business partner, Waitrose’s local store, after 1400 the following day …. at no extra charge. Clever huh! My mother’s generation would have been flabbergasted

Stationed with the British Army in Germany in the 1970s, if we wanted to buy something British, we relied on an organisation called the NAAFI for our shopping. The NAAFI (Navy, Army & Air Force Institute) had large stores (hardly supermarkets!) where you would try and find it. I remember going to the Schloss Neuhaus one on a Saturday morning and, being unable to find what I wanted, ink cartridge refills for a fountain pen, went up to a member of ‘customer services’. Having described the ink cartridge and its make, the woman said “No! We don’t stock those; no demand!” And then, as she walked away, I overheard her mutter under her breath: “Funny, that’s the 5th time this week someone’s asked for that!” The irony was lost! Funny world, innit?

Space precludes sounding off about Lakeland, a shop where you buy things you never thought you needed, but I should mention a Sunday Times piece (28th October 2014) by Matt Rudd, who had been to Homebase, a ‘Do-It-Yourself’ store, to buy a lightbulb*, a pot of paint and a screw. Bamboozled by the huge variety and type of each …… he left with nothing! Funny World Innit?

Richard richardyates24@gmail.com

*“    “I wanted a screw-fit light bulb. Nothing more , nothing less. But there were 9367 screw-fit lightbulbs. Did I want 700 lumens or 1240? Did I want an eco-bulb, a very eco-bulb or a bulb that would light our bathroom? Did I want it to last 2 years, 5 years, 10 years or “up to 25 years”? The two year one cost £5, or £2.50 a year. The 25 year bulb cost £15, just 60 pence a year. Bargain. But what if we move house in seven years? Could we take the 18 year bulb with us? What if we decided to change the lighting in the bathroom in 2029? It might happen. I have no way of knowing – so I left the lightbulb section with nothing.”








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