Sunday, 26 October 2008

Supermarket Hell

Going to the supermarket is always a mistake. This time I was forced into it. I had to pick up some medicine, and Tesco's pharmacy was the only one open on a Sunday. I never expected it to be a pleasant experience, but my mistake was to expect it to be a manageable trip. I made other mistakes too, like thinking that I would remain calm, rather than stomping around like a furious Larry David.

I make that mistake every single time, somehow convincing myself that it won't be THAT bad. That I will "manage" the trip by drawing on my limitless patience with the human race. I do have limitless patience with the human race - you do know that, right? If I know in advance that the supermarket will be most peoples' idea of Hell on a bad hair day, then I can prepare myself. Right?

That little voice at the back of my consciousness was whispering its usual lies. No-one will be there midday on a Sunday, it said. They'll be home preparing for lunch, it said. It'll be easy to find a parking space, it said. There'll be no queue at the pharmacy, it said. There'll be no kids running round screaming, racing trolleys and knocking old ladies over while their parents do nothing, it said. The "basket only" queue will be under five people long and moving quickly, it said. You'll even enjoy the outing, it said.

I'm going to have to kick that little voice right where it hurts.

If I had known it was Incompetents' Day Out in the car park I would would not have gone. I would have spent hours driving around to find another pharmacy, or even resorted to brewing the drugs myself on our balcony.

There were the usual klutzes driving the wrong way round the car park in order to nab spaces. There were entire extended families capering about on the through ways. There were small yappy dogs scrapping, biting and molesting shoppers. All that was missing from the chaos was a troop of pre-schoolers playing Frère Jacques on tin whistles.

I had been presented with no choice, so I just went to Tesco. But the rest of the universe (and beyond) had chosen to go to Tesco right then. Why? mean seriously, why oh why head down Tesco at lunchtime on a Sunday?

The place was packed with the usual suspects. Grannies spilling change, small children running riot, and (I kid you not) elephantine families wheeling round fleets of overloaded shopping trolleys full of Fanta and biscuits. Not that that is wrong, I hasten to add before a brigade of Guardian readers and Liberal Democrats come beating down my door, lambasting me for thought crimes and for being inconsiderate. But it is funny.

Seriously, those Fanta kids must be so WIRED. You can imagine them coming down the stairs at night, a 2-litre bottle of Fanta in one hand, a packet of biscuits in the other, eyes as wide as Texas, half-crazed on a sugar high. "Mummy, Daddy, I can't sleep and I've got a splitting headache."

Of the one million under-fives present at Tesco, fifty percent were wearing Heelys. In case you've been blessed with blissful ignorance (in which case I envy you), Heelys are those trainers that are equipped with wheels in the heel. Heelys are the worst thing man has ever created. Just when we thought our race had run out of dumb, dangerous and despicable things to event some idiot created the Heely.

To be fair on him or her, it was a genius money-making move. I should have bought shares. However they have a lot to answer for. They deserve to be strapped to a giant Heely and rolled slowly down Oxford Street on Christmas Eve, pelted with tomatoes by the angry masses, to the joyful sound of Frère Jacques played on tin whistles by a troop of pre-schoolers. This the same fate deserved by the 70s city planners. And no, this isn't my soapbox. I've lost my soapbox.

There is nothing worse than a busy supermarket seething with little kids screaming round on Heelys. Actually, an episode of chronic diarrhea in a crowded, broken-down lift would be worse, but I won't dwell on that...

...for long, but there was that time when I was watching daytime TV with my good friend Ray. An advert came on from an anti-constipation drug. A sexy smiling blond was sitting on the arm of a leather sofa, short skirt, high heels and grinning inanely. "The last thing you want on a busy day is to be constipated," she said, smiling ecstatically, crossing and re-crossing her legs (why the advertisers thought that anti-constipation drugs should be sexed-up beats me).

Ray turned to me. "No Jon," he said. "The last thing YOU want on a busy day is to be hit by a sudden bout of explosive chronic diarrhea, while stuck in a crowded lift and surrounded by small yapping dogs and small children blowing tin whistles."

Pause for thought. Did the parents simply say, "What a great idea, why don't you wear your Heelys to the supermarket", or did they get the idea from "How To Turn a Supermarket into a Hellhole in Five Easy Steps"?

Entering the supermarket my expression of weary anticipation was transformed into the sorrowful expression of a child that was expecting socks for Christmas and received a lump of earwax instead. The noise was terrifying. The aural equivalent of having your ear drum cleaned with an electric toothbrush to Slip Knot played backwards through a tinny mobile phone speaker. It was Hell.

As I narrowly avoided death-by-healy for the seventh time I decided the safest route to the pharmacy was through the clothes section. Biggest mistake I ever made. The clothes section was filled with a desultory group of shoppers with trolleys piled high, crashing into each other like a fleet of supertankers stuck in a duck pond. Displaying my limitless patience, and demonstrating our race's incredible capacity for survival, I stumbled my way through to the pharmacy. I heard one supertanker collide with another one behind me.

The queue at the pharmacy was, of course, monstrous. The pharmacy was, of course, manned by a single Trainee. Writhing like a Chinese New Year procession and full of the usual queue-jumpers, the queue was as bad as the one at the Ukrainian embassy. But that's another story. In case you're wondering, the word "queue" in Ukrainian translates roughly to "fight".

In the grand scheme of things, a busy supermarket on a Sunday lunchtime is as close to Hell on earth as you can possibly get.

But the day wasn't all bad. On the way home I saw a car flashed by a speed camera. That made my day. The sucker. As ol' Clint would say (note the politically correct "people" that I've sensitively substituted here), there are two kinds of people in this world. Those that see speed cameras as yet another tax tool, and those that relish them as vengeance on the wicked. I'm a stickler for rules and fall in the latter camp.

A stickler for rules with the exception for Digital Rights Management (DRM). Are you telling me that I can legally purchase music from amazingtunes or itunes and "can't" play them on my Squeezebox or mp3 player? Jeeze. I can and I will.

Dagnammit, I think I've found my soapbox.


Eric said...

It's an old post, but a good one. You, sir, are a master of metaphor.

The Gnu said...

have you ever been so annoyed at the heelie that you went out and bought some? then practiced in the supermarket? then run into the kid that annoyed you so much in the first place? then watched him limping on one broken heelie back to his mother crying like a little girl?
if you haven't, try it, it makes life worth living!

As I have quite a few new readers since I became a "Jelly Biter" I've put this up here again. To understand the context you must read this post!