Pretend you’re me.
You’re about to embark on a journey to the local supermarket — the Canterbury branch of Morrisons — for the components of a picnic lunch. If you like, pronounce ‘picnic’ as Yogi Bear would: “pic-a-nic”. Just get some salad, some sushi, a couple of drink yoghurts, and you’re golden.
You cycle to Morrisons because you’re an idiot who doesn’t care about your physical safety, and you laugh your way around the cars that try to park in spaces while you’re cycling across them. This is a good start.
On your way into the supermarket itself, you take a basket. For your convenience, baskets are placed in stacks. At the bottom of the stack there is a comedy basket — i.e. an immovable one — instead of a similarly shaped receptacle that is clearly not a basket, which would make it unambiguous whether or not there is a basket available — because that would be too easy.
As you continue into the shop, you might consider humming The Raiders March.
The metal batwing doors may — or may not — open automatically. To find out, you need to step towards them, shuffle backwards a bit, and step towards them again. Think of it as a Cèleigh. If the doors turn out to be automatic, you’ll probably walk through miming an opening action with your hand, giving the impression that you think you have Jedi powers. If the doors turn out to be manual, you’ll barge through with a combination of groin and basket, causing everyone who is feeling oranges to turn and look at you blankly.
Your route through the store will be a hellish zigzag orchestrated by the inaccurate signs that swing above the aisles. Let’s say you want to find some sushi. Should be with the other fish, right? Surely. Yon, there’s a massive counter of fresh fish! Next to it is a whole wall of pre-packed salmon, pilchards, and so on. So where is the sushi? About a quarter of a mile away, beyond the hateful metal batwing doors. Because that is the obvious place for sushi — next to the newspapers.
Paranoia begins to build. You wonder if the most commonly needed items are spaced the greatest distance apart. And you’ll be precisely correct — at least, you’ll think you’re correct. That’s what paranoia does.
Finally, you’ve found the ingredients of your meek picnic lunch. Now you’ve got a choice of about fifty cashiers or six ‘automated’ check-outs. Well, you only have about eight items, so it seems silly to queue with those people who are buying enough to overwinter at McMurdo Sound.
So you approach the automated check-outs.
Your first problem is that the checkouts are arranged in a square and can be joined from either the outward side of the shop or the inward side. This means that two rival, seething queues have developed. The phrase ‘I’m sorry, but there’s a queue’ is repeated with increasing vehemence. Baskets are rattled in threat.
While queueing, you notice that one of the six automated cashiers is broken. It’s never the same one. Perhaps the machine is on a break but lacks the physical capacity to go and have a cigarette by the wheelie bins with all the other staff. The ‘break time’ machine will show a Windows dialogue box with only one option. That option will be something like ‘Just accept it’.
You try to remain jolly as the people ahead of you get increasingly confused and frustrated by the way the automated cashiers don’t work. It soon turns out that Morrisons is using the word ‘automated’ in the sense that means ‘you do it’. Groans and sighs can be used to attract the one staff member tasked with loitering nearby. Wordlessly, she applies the same treatment to every ailment: she puts her key in the machine, gives it a savage twist, and resumes her nail biting over by the cigarettes, one heel resting on a comedy basket.
You think it’s over when you reach the automated cashier. It is not. The sign above says ’15 items or less’. It quickly becomes clear, however, that unless these items are TicTacs, you have nowhere to put your items on the specially provided, uniquely small ‘inbox’ platform. You’ll need to put your basket on the floor and pretend you’re in the gym, doing a stand-crouch rep for each of your items.
Stupidly, you care about the environment and you’ve brought a canvas bag to use instead of the plastic ones provided. Talk about foolishness — for when you put the bag on the ‘outbox’ platform, the computer bleats ‘You haven’t scanned it! Alert! He hasn’t scanned it!’ and you realise that the bloody thing works by weight. It thinks that you’ve stolen the TicTacs. Still, you grunt and sigh and the wordless member of staff comes over and assaults the machine with her key and the machine stops bleating.
All that’s left to do is scan your items. Impishly, the surface of the outbox is covered by a wadge of Morissons plastic bags, which cannot be removed because they’re skewered to a metal frame. It turns out that a surface comprising layered plastic bags is second only to spherical Buckminsterfullerene in its frictionless properties. So anything you put on it — like, I don’t know, say, your bloody shopping — slides around like an air hockey puck, only every edge is the goal.
That’s OK. You cope with it. You half lie across the pile and try to maintain this posture as you do another rep in the Morrisons gym, scanning your next item using your foot. But you can’t seem to get the barcode to scan. Hmm, you think. Why not? You scan the item about sixty, seventy times before you realise that the computer is not happy — has issues with, is uncomfortable about — the fluctuating weight of the teetering pile of shopping in the outbox. Instead of communicating using that crazy, old-fashioned thing we call an error message — ‘Hey, bucko, quit lying on the frickin’ outbox’ or something similar — it just does nothing and pretends not to read the next item.
You relax. Of course! You remember that Morrisons is using the word ‘automated’ to mean ‘you do it’. Everything is fine. After all, the idea of automated cashiers has only been around for about thirty years, and it makes sense that, in 2009, they should still be this piss poor.
You go home and weep over your sun-dried tomatoes and curse the very day you decided on a pic-a-nic lunch.