A visit to Tesco’s

Now what could be more exciting than that? Can I make a remotely interesting literary piece out of the most banal of activities, shopping in a supermarket. We shall see.

Supermarket automatic doors
open for me;
therefore, I am.

Craig Bruce

Or how’s this for size?

“what we have learned is that if you can make the right decision in the supermarket aisle, it’s a heck of a lot easier than making a good decision when you reach into your cupboard when you’re craving a snack at eight o’clock at night”
Tom Rath

Food shopping is one of those things that has to happen. I think of people in rural areas of Africa who have to go half a days march to get to the nearest market and then half a days march back carrying their resources home to their family.  By contrast, we drive by car in a few minutes and take it for granted.

Here we are a few days before the great day, Christmas Day, in a large branch of Tesco’s with over-loud Christmas Bells music in the background, colleague announcements on the crackly microphone, and a crowd of purposeful people pushing groaning trolleys carrying lists and stare stressfully ahead looking for the next item.

There is something about me and probably my wife that creates anxiety so that when we have two extra guests for a few days we go into overdrive and buy enough food for an army. Anyone would think that shops are going to be closed for seven days or there was going to be a famine. How big is the salmon piece do we want? How many types of vegetables will satisfy the guests? Shall we get single cream or double cream?

I asked the girl at the checkout whether she had exceeded £100 on a customer that day. She slightly rolled her eyes and said that £300-£400 was quite common when drinks are included. I suppose if you’re a mum with a family of five and the in-laws coming over to 3 days that’s probably about right.  There was a certain happiness and comradeship, almost but not quite a buzz, a very distant echo of the Spirit of the Blitz which older people talk about when we are all against a common enemy, trying to get the most out of the least and searching for bargains.

Christmas would not be Christmas without one or two children two years old running up and down the aisle or screaming as they are being carried around on the trolley. I know that the supermarket has a host of clever tricks to entice people into buying more. I notice that yellow signs announcing a very low price on cauliflower at say 29p which will cause you to look at other vegetables that surprise surprise are not so keenly priced. In this case the cauliflower was an attractor and a loss leader. On the same display rack I was invited to buy a lemon for 53p.

On arrival in the store itself I was greeted by rows and rows of inexpensively priced Cava Sparkling wine. Some champagnes (we should not really call them that)  are so cheap but lacking in quality and I feel they could be equally well used for cleaning car engines and attacking any chemical residue lurking in the nether regions of my stomach. It also occurred to me that if you have 24 bottles standing side-by-side they are more attractive than one bottle on its own.

At the tills of some supermarkets, notably Lidl, there are tempting rows of items on the shelf leading up to the till itself containing little packets of walnuts, sweets, chews etc. I don’t think anyone minds being tempted. It’s a game of wits that everyone plays. My favourite parts of the market are the fish and meat stalls especially the fish. You can point to exactly what you want, have the privilege of paying an enormous price for it, but you know that the food is fresh.

My impulse is to go around as quickly as possible, gather up what I need and trying to ignore all the other temptations and escape. My wife, however, likes to linger creatively and as she walks she concocts what meals are going to be prepared for our guests. I’d tend to complain that the wife is spending too much but as she tactfully points out, we don’t often do a big shop so the spending per diem is not actually that great.

I hate the automated checking out especially when you’re going to buy wine. The innards of the machine spots this and says in a scolding voice “approval needed”. I then have to wait for some busy person to come along and swipe a card. The checkout device is also very choosy and in my view impertinent about leaving items in the wrong place, not packing things where you should do and basically starting where you should finish. ” Have you removed all items from the tray?”. I want to reply “I will remove them once I have finished thank you very much” but I know that that will be a waste of time. I much prefer to deal with a human operator even if I have to be asked every time if I have a Tesco card or if I want cashback. I try to smile and mumble my reply, “no and no” and off we go.

Among the annoying habits of people are those who pack all their items individually and carefully, close the carrier bags and then realise finally that they have to pay and get out their purse.  But then you see,  I’m a naturally impatient person. I pride myself on keeping pace with the goods that flow through the checkout with the accompaniment of the predictable beep. I then swipe my credit card and hold my hand up for the receipt and off I go. No time wasting, very little conversation and just a smile. “How are you today?”. Response – “I’m fine”.

The whole experience I regard as a mixed blessing and for our day-to-day purposes prefer the local One-Stop shop where you can linger and joke even if you bought just one of two things. I guess you can describe the supermarket as a necessary evil but one that we had to put up with.  The local shop has the added benefit of the bargain price reductions. I get the impression that supermarkets would rather throw the stuff away. People think that an item which has either passed or is on the sell by date is going to give you instant dysentery but I have never found this to be the case. I always look sneakily for those yellow price reduction labels and take delight in saving a few pounds.


It is dark, the log fire is roaring in the grate (come to think of it, where else would it roar?), and other half is shortly due back from her shopping trip to Bath ” I’m just going to get one of two things = three hours away”. You know the sort of thing, chaps.


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