This is a photo I took through the dirty window of a bridge across the M6 on one of the allegedly busiest pre Christmas travel days of the year, as I was driving north. I’m glad all the worry mongering forecasts of long delays were wrong, but I did still wonder where everyone else was.
That is, I was wondering that until I hit a roundabout at the entrance to a shopping centre area, Morrison’s on one side of the road, Asda the other and I found myself in the middle of exactly where everyone else was; queuing to get into a supermarket car park.
Leaving aside the questions of why anyone sane would join a line of stationary traffic waiting to get into a shopping car park, or why there is such an orgy of shopping before Christmas when the stores are only closed for one day over the holiday season, I wondered about how vile it must be to work in a supermarket over this period, where the frenzy of over consumption is laid bare in all its essential ugliness.
A few days before leaving London I walked to a nearby supermarket to buy a couple of things. I specifically chose the shop on the basis that its chief characteristics is that there are rarely the long lines at the checkouts that are the sine qua non of a visit to most of its competitors. I was disappointed on this occasion however as I had to wait some time to pay for my meagre five item basket.
Never one to miss an opportunity however, it afforded me the chance to observe the comedy of manners played out before me.
Everyone in my long line was watching the employee at the adjacent till hoping that she would soon get her machine working and open up, remove the ‘this line is not currently in use’ sign from her conveyer belt, and start to tot up the bill for the person speedy enough to dash across at precisely the right moment.
From my vantage point I could see that there were some technical problems with the screen, as it had been displaying the ‘leave me alone while I reboot’ rotating egg timer symbol ever since I’d joined the queue. The middle aged lady operator had already performed the basic ‘switch it off and start again’ routine a couple of times when a very young woman in the green jacket which denotes a supervisor rank rushed up.
‘Open up the till. There’s a queue.’ She pointed at us, as if the other woman hadn’t already been aware of 10 pairs of eyes observing her every move as she attempted to overcome the reluctance of the technology.
‘It’s rebooting,’ the older woman said, in a tone, which to me sounded remarkably unperturbed by the rudeness of the supervisor girl, who had already rushed off without contributing anything to resolve the basic issue.
Two minutes later, another bright faced girl in a green jacket, clip board in hand entered the scene from the other direction. She removed the ‘this line closed’ sign from the belt,
‘Open up now,’ her tone was even more peremptory than the first girl.
‘The till’s not working,’ the woman’s tone was still patient.
‘You’ve got to open,’ the girl’s pace barely slowed, while she gesticulated with the hand holding the ‘closed’ sign.
‘Put it back’ Finally the older woman’s voice contained the years of additional experience, the fact that she knew what she was doing and that the girl was contributing nothing to the customer service experience. ‘Put it back,’ she pointed to the conveyer belt. ‘Now.’
As a disinterested observer, in an increasingly restive crowd, I could have suggested that instead of rushing about issuing useless instructions to an experienced co-worker, most likely old enough to be her mother, and manifestly used to the idiosyncrasies of the company’s IT systems, at least one of the girls could have opened up one of the unmanned cash desks by the cigarette counter and done something to contribute to reducing the lengthening lines.
But then, I’m only a customer, so what would I know? (And if they were more efficient, maybe there would have been more people in my way on the motorway…..)