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.
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.
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.