One Guy Two Checkouts


I have derived quite a bit of blogging material over the years from my visits to the supermarkets. There’s one post here and, oh look, there’s another one. Well, here’s a new one for you.

Every weekday lunchtime, give or take, I nip across to the supermarket to get the makings of a sandwich. Nothing fancy, a roll perhaps and something to stuff inside it. Yes I’m frugal. On Tuesdays I splash out and buy the next week’s Radio Times. That’s it, now there’s nothing you don’t know about me, nothing at all.

Except perhaps this thing with the two checkouts.

There are two checkouts, you see, in the supermarket. Side by side, they are. Of course there are lots of checkouts, bigger ones with conveyor belts and plastic-grocery-separating-thingies but it’s hard to use those when you’ve only got a brown roll and a smear of tuna in a tub. It’s easier to go to the two side-by-side checkouts which are the counter-type-ones that purvey all the ciggies and discreet little bottles of booze and lottery tickets and such.

These two side-by-side checkouts are great, the ladies who man them are familiar faces and are always good for a painless exchange about the weather or a well worn joke whenever The Queen appears on the cover of the Radio Times (“Do you want a Playboy to wrap that up in?”)

The only problem with this two side-by-side checkouts – and, come on, I know you’ve got there already - yes it’s the queuing system or, more accurately, the lack thereof. 

There are two checkouts, you see, and only one of me.

This isn’t such a problem when there’s only me there. Which of the two nice ladies should I patronise with my egg salad? It’s a pleasant little conundrum, easily solved and, as you might guess, the ladies don’t seem to give a continental feck either way. 

But there’s hardly ever only me there. It’s lunchtime. Half the town is out in search of sustenance and none of us are too keen to be hanging around.  There's usually some measure of queuing going on. So, which queue do I join? 

“Wait,” I hear you cry, “wait, wait, wait, is that going to be ‘it’? The substance of this post? “Which queue should I join?” This subject is like the ‘Airline Food’ of stand up comedy. Bank queues, airplane check in queues, movie ticket queues, it’s been Done to Death mate.”

I hear you.

This is ever-so-slightly different.

Here’s why.

The queues morph. You heard me, they morph. They change, fluidly and often, from two separate queues into one and then back again, sometimes in the blinking of an eye. 

The trouble often starts with the formation of one common queue. Whereas a ‘separate queue for each till’ system may have operated perfectly well for hours, some far-seeing person, momentarily alone in queuing at two occupied tills will realise that the most egalitarian solution will be to position oneself equidistant between said  two tills and wait for whichever one comes free first. Then any person behind also gets first dibs at the first available till. It’s wonderful and fair. We see it in our banks all the time, a little cordoned off single queue with a series of tellers at the end. Go to the next available window. No more getting held up behind some greasy shopkeeper and his wads of pennies.

But therein lies the rub. 

The Cordon. 

There is no Cordon in the supermarket. The far seeing person who introduces the single queue system has no physical authority but his own unwavering sense of moral rectitude… you’ve guessed this too haven’t you? Yup, that ‘single queue former’… it’s often me. 

So, yeah, I stand boldly, equidistant between the tills and I expect everyone to fall in behind me and generally they do. It makes sense. The quickest way to get out of here with your Swiss Roll (not my choice) is to fall in behind. So, yes, Rich Men, Poor Men, Beggar Men… they all fall in with this slightly Socialist plan of mine.

As with most things in life, it’s the Little Old Ladies who scupper the deal.

I’m waiting. I’ve instituted a single queue solely by my positioning and the telling clench of my buttocks and a small cohort of citizens have duly fallen in behind. The person at each till is taking their own sweet time but they’re getting there. We’ll all be served, in strict order…

From out of left field, a little old lady appears with a newspaper and an unfeasibly small loaf of bread.  Just as she arrives, the till nearest her comes free and she ducks straight into it.

“Excuse me,” the leader of the newly-formed single queue party (me) might say, “we’re queuing here.”

The little old lady is deaf. She goes about her business. She wants the full show, lottery tickets, ciggies and one of those discreet bottles of alcohol. And the checkout lady remains studiously out of the equation. They don't pay her enough to get involved in all this.

The queue behind the leader of the_ all right behind me becomes rumbly and faintly mutinous. I can feel them wonder why they have formed themselves behind this unassertive and frankly impotent queue-meister. A faction breaks off and moves to queue behind the Granny, some stay with me on what is now the reformed second till queue.

It has all fallen to dust in my hands.

It was all for naught.

Until tomorrow, when I will probably try it all again.

Tomorrow is another day. 

3 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

The only supermarket I frequent with any regularity—that would be a couple of time a month tops—is the Co-operative down the hill and all its customers are well-trained; we know the drill when it comes to queuing. Even though there are three tills it’s rare for more than one to be manned (although since it’s invariably a female shouldn’t that be ‘womanned’?—I digress) and although they are a pleasant bunch I’ve yet to engage in conversation with any of them but then we’ve only been here for ten years so they’re probably just getting used to me; I am an acquired taste. Maybe once a year I venture into a real supermarket—because, honestly there is nothing that super about the Co-op—and it’s usually the Asda in the town centre. Twice I tried out the new DIY-tills and never again; they terrify me! I don’t care if all I have are two or three items I demand to be attended to by a real person even if she refuses to make eye contact and sighs at me because I stick my debit card in the machine the wrong way round.

We do all our shopping these days via the Internet. And I mean all our shopping. It’s wonderful. A man comes once a week laden with goodies and all I have to do it redistribute the contents of his carrier bags around our kitchen (or at least those items Carrie assigns to me). There are never any queues online.

Several years ago I hired a car and Carrie and I headed off to the Lake District. We had not booked ahead and played everything by ear; very unlike me. Our last stop was Morecambe. I had never been before although one of my earliest memories is of a trip to see the Blackpool illuminations when I was probably three or four. When there we went to see Graham Ibbesson’s statue of Eric Morecambe and I have a photo of me with Eric to prove it; we also bought a replica which sits on the unit above the TV; Eric is one of my all-time comic heroes. Anyway what I noticed was how people formed an orderly queue and waited patiently for their turn to go and have their moment with Eric. I thought: How British. We do love to queue except at bus stops these days. We used to but somewhere along the line all that stopped along with giving up your seat if any lady (not just an elderly one) got on.

hope said...

Not a problem here. Most register "lines" have a shelf of "last minute...don't you just HAVE to have it?" are on either side, physically separating the registers. Think cattle chutes for people. :)

Anonymous said...

It's "there're" not "there's". One I could forgive. Not two!