I said I’d only be 40 minutes or so, and it’s now pushing an hour and a half and I still have to go to Asda. But, as late as I am, I’m not going to be long in Asda because I only have a few things to pick up, I know where they all are, and I can fly through the self-checkout and be home before you can say paracetamoxyfrusibendroneomycin (thank you The Amateur Transplants).
I grab a basket and like a non-destructive, bald-headed, man-shaped hurricane I hurtle through the store, grabbing the items I need as I pass them, without stopping (I know,it’s impressive, you don’t have to say). A couple of times I miss what I was grabbing for and have to make another pass, but manage to salvage the situation by using the extra journey to collect a few extra bits that happen to be in the same direction.
From collection of the basket to arrival at the checkout: 4minutes.
The self-checkout setup has a bank of 4 self-service machines arranged in pairs, with each pair facing the other meaning that, more often than not, the queue that forms straddles both pairs. It’s like an unwritten law of shopping or something.
As there was no queue when I screech to a heel melting halt and not one to buck a trend, I form the beginnings of a new queue between the 2 pairs of checkouts.
As I faced them:
The first checkout to my left was out of order.
The second to my left was occupied by a middle-aged man with a basket crammed full of small items.
To my right, was a tall, gangling teenager with a basket of pizzas, crisps and beer, and taking up the other checkout to the right were two non-descript blokes.
I wait, still buzzing slightly (if pathetically) from my bullet train-esque sprint around the shop. As I wait I begin concocting elaborate plans that would allow me to scan my shopping, bag it, pay for it and be out of the shop before my time hit the 7minute mark:
Could I quickly prepare an open carrier then slide my shopping over the scanner and into the open bag?
If I checked the location of each barcode now, I could speed the process up and use both hands – one for grabbing, one for scanning.
I am man. These are the games we play.
As I watch the shoppers in front of me I notice a few things:
The damaged checkout has apparently been mauled by tigers or some other equally ferocious animal, it’s scanner and weighing panel open and hanging over the side. And, it appeared that Asda was in the habit of employing children, as the ‘Out of Order’ sign had, apparently, been written by a 6yr old in red wax crayon.
The middle-aged man’s basket of small items didn’t appear to be emptying any. This was probably due to the fact that the number of small items in his basket exceeded the ’20 items or less’ requirement by about 300, and he was scanning each one with mathematical precision and laying them in the carrier bag as if they were movement sensitive explosives.
The teenager appeared to be unfamiliar with any form of technology. He also seemed unable to grasp the fact that, in order for the checkout to know what he’s buying, he needed to scan the barcode. Each item was scanned on every side until the machine made a satisfying ‘beep’, whereupon he dropped the item into a carrier bag and the process began again. It was like watching a slow-motion video of squirrels working out how to extract peanuts from a bird feeder.
All, however, was not lost. The two blokes at the far right were finished. One of them had picked up the shopping and had grabbed the receipt.
I tense my muscles, preparing to spring forward and launch into my pre-prepared, time-saving, shopping scanning plan. Time was dripping away like water, but I could still get out within the 7 minutes. Provided I knew the location of every barcode and there were no hiccups with the machine, I could do it.
I step forward. I’ve lifted the basket ready to place it on the shelf next to the scanner, when the second of the two men, the one who hadn’t really been doing much except stand in the way of the passing trolleys on the way to the exit, steps towards the machine. I notice for the first time that he has a small bottle of Lucozade in his hands.
The frustration that had been building in me began to melt into a seething fury as I realise that he wasn’t with the other bloke at all, but had, instead, been queuing from entirely the wrong side of the checkouts!! I mean, who does that!!??
As I watch, he gives me an apologetic smile; a smile that says "sorry for doing this but what other choice do I have? If there was anything else I could do, I’d do it. But there isn’t. We’re just going to have to make the best of it" and begins to scan his bottle of Lucozade.
I go back to waiting. And seething.
I’m English, so I don’t say anything like "OI! Twat!! The queue’s this side!!", I just get quietly angry.
He scans the bottle, then gets out a debit card. For the love of Christs’ puppy Colin, he was paying for a single bottle of Lucozade with a debit card!!
A card that the checkout doesn’t recognise, naturally.
He purposely doesn’t catch my eye as he turns towards me to call for assistance.
The 7 minute mark whistles passed. I failed.
What I failed and how it counts as a failure, I don’t know. I just failed.
The teenager, by some miracle, has now finished paying for his shopping and is moving away with his purchases, but I notice that a second queue has been started behind that checkout alone, as though the queue that I’ve started doesn’t count as an actual line of people waiting to purchase stuff.
The teenager is now far enough away for an approach to not appear rude and the cheeky fucking second queue forming bastard begins to move in.
My blood pressure, now threatening to squirt blood from my tear ducts, forces me into action and I leap swiftly forward, dumping my basket, unceremoniously, onto the checkout shelf.
As I begin to scan my items, my plan for a hasty exit now in tatters and panic rising in my throat that I’m going to have to have some kind of confrontation, I hear someone behind me say to the person I had just cut off "Excuse me, there’s a queue".
I scan my items and begin to wonder if I could make it out of the car park with my eyes shut.