Jonny McCambridge: My supermarket shame ... and no help is coming

Supermarket shopping is not really my thing.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 6:00 am

While it is a chore which has to be undertaken, the ordeal of pushing a trolley up and down thronged aisles stacked with 496 different brands of peanut butter fills me with apprehension.

One of the problems is that, no matter how many times I do it, I always seem to encounter trouble finding items. When I’m looking for soap, I usually stumble erroneously into the feminine hygiene section and then can’t find my way out.

Once, about seven years ago when I was going through a healthy phase, I decided that I would buy some quinoa. I am still looking.

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This is me lost in the cereal aisle

The large supermarket close to my home has two whole aisles devoted to breakfast cereal. If I am ever reported missing it is a reasonable bet that I may be discovered in a dark corner of one of those two aisles, weeping uncontrollably while repeating over and over ‘All I wanted was a box of Corn Flakes!”

I do have a workaround. My local supermarket has a policy, introduced because of Covid, that it now opens on a Sunday at 10am rather than the traditional 1pm. Nobody else seems to have noticed this (and as I’m revealing it in my ever popular column, it’s a fair bet to assume that nobody ever will).

Thus, at 9.58am on a Sunday morning, I can usually be found standing outside the glass doors. I have a scribbled list and I whizz round the empty aisles throwing items into my trolley.

I am always the first customer to reach the checkout desk and am served by the same wee man every week, having the same conversation about how great it is to get the weekly shopping done while it is so quiet.

And then I leave, hoping that I don’t run out of any household necessities before the next weekend.

‘We have run out of toilet roll,’ I tell my wife on a Thursday evening.

‘Well, go and get some.’

The corner shop is closed, so I will have to make a rare midweek foray to the supermarket.

I tell myself it will be ok. I need one thing. I know where it is located. I can be in and out in minutes.

As I rush through the glass doors, eschewing the trollies and baskets, the situation looks promising. The late hour means there are very few shoppers and I quickly dash to the toilet roll aisle and grab what I need.

Then, sadly, I hesitate, and things start to go wrong.

Beside the toilet roll is the kitchen roll. I find myself wondering if we need kitchen roll.

Really, I should know better. Experience has taught me never to stray from the list. No good comes of it.

There is a universal rule. If I buy the item, I will get home and discover that we already have an abundance of it. If I don’t buy the item, I will get home and discover that we have run out. I call it Jonny’s First Rule of Shopping.

Recently, when wandering vacantly through the baking aisle, I thought it might be a good idea to get a bag of flour. Perhaps, I mused wistfully, I would bake a cake. When I got home, I discovered I had 13 unopened bags of flour in the cupboard.

I stare at the kitchen roll. I don’t know what to do. I grab two packets.

But a fatal weakness has been exposed. Next, I find myself thinking that I should get a bottle of wine for my wife. Then I think I had better get something for the next evening’s dinner. Then I think I had better get something for the next evening’s dinner for my son, because he won’t eat the same food as us. Then I think that I had better get some milk, because we always need milk.

Soon, I am regretting my hasty decision not to take a shopping basket as I struggle with the expanding array of items in my arms.

I am in the fruit and veg section. It occurs to me that I should dust off the old blender and make some fruit smoothies. I grab strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples and oranges. I get loose apples and oranges rather than those in bags because I feel it brings me closer to nature.

Now, surely, I am done. Well, not quite. I have a condition which means I cannot walk past lemons in a shop without picking up three of them. Always three. I think it might be a legacy of watching too much Jamie Oliver when I was younger. The problem is that I rarely use lemons and they generally remain in my fruit basket until they turn blue and furry.

I pick up three lemons.

Sweating under the weight of my armful of provisions, I look for a checkout which has a human being working on it. But there are no staff about and I am forced to endure the torture of the self-scan automated checkout.

There are two sides to an automated checkout. One for the food before you scan it, one for the food after you scan it. I always get them mixed up. It is Jonny’s Second Rule of Shopping.

I try to lay my shopping down gently on the shelf. Instead the goods spill clumsily out of my arms and the fruit falls to the floor. The raspberries packet bursts open and they turn to mush under my feet. The blueberries packet bursts open and they roll about like marbles. I recover two apples, but a third one seems to be rolling its way towards the breakfast cereal aisles. I decide I won’t make fruit smoothies.

I scan the rest of my items and try to pay. But I can’t. I have scanned a bottle of wine and the purchase must be approved by a human. The machine starts to talk to me.

‘Someone is coming to help you.’

I look around. There is nobody about.

‘Someone is coming to help you.’

This is a lie.

‘Someone is coming to help you.’

I stand there, frozen in shame and confusion, listening to the machine. I don’t know for how long.

‘Someone is coming to help you.’