22 April, 2006

Shop talk

Having spent 11 and a half years patronising the good folk of Tesco in Liverpool, getting used to the unscheduled variations in quality, the unpredictable degrees of freshness within the vegetables, the way the fresh bread always sold out by midday, the mania of the scrum that brewed up every 6pm when that day's reduced goods were brought out, and the mysteriously frequent non-availability of cauliflowers, I fully expected the Tesco branches of London to be, if more soulless, than certainly more efficient, well-stocked and reliable.

I continue to be proved wrong. My local branch persists in being spectacularly adept at disabusing all my hopes of maybe, just maybe, one day being able to purchase everything I set out to purchase. I should stress these notional items aren't fancy goods or obscure delicacies. They are things like, yes, a cauliflower, but also potatoes, carrots, orange juice, or even a loaf of brown bread. Foodstuffs you would say are pretty basic staples of most people's diets. Most people who try to eat healthily and sensibly, that is, and aren't merely content to shove crisps into their face three times a day.

Yet on every single occasion I have been to this Tesco (it's on Brent Street for those keeping score), which must now number in total two dozen or so, something has been missing of enormous everyday consequence. Usually more than once. No explanation is given. No protests seem to be mounted. Nobody seems the least bit bothered. Indeed, often more fuss appears to be raised over the length of the queue at the lottery ticket booth rather than the produce on the shelves (or lack of them, as the case may be).

The whole store is a bit of an anachronism. It's decked out in the old Tesco font of the 1970s, which albeit nice to look at in a nostalgic kind of way doesn't suggest an organisation at the top of its game. Every possible nationality in the world shops there, which always gives an eerie impression, on entering, that you're walking into an exotic bazaar rather than your local supermarket. A lot of shouting goes on. Nobody working on the tills looks happy. There's always a shortage of carrier bags, resulting in you having to use half-size ones which are neither use nor ornament, especially if you've been lucky enough to find, say, a cauliflower.

People push in when you're waiting in line at the checkouts, which is quite frankly unacceptable - especially when it's 60-year-old women doing the pushing. And finally, when you've made it through the shouting and the queues and got everything in decent-sized bags and forced yourself to look at the glum faces of the assistants, the sliding doors out of the place either fail to open or move apart just wide enough to let you edge out with the minimum of dignity and the maximum potential for dropping your purchases all over the pavement.

I used to begrudge the fact I didn't live near a Tesco in Liverpool and always had to make a long walk or bus ride to buy any food. Now there's one 10 minutes away, yet I'm still begrudging. What price the location of an ordinary potato? You might as well try planting your own. Oh, wait a minute, I don't have a garden. But there is a supermarket 10 minutes away.


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