Jane Croft Copyrights 2014 All rights Reserved
Friday 4pm: town-centre traffic is reduced to a crawl and the temperature gauge on the dashboard display shows twenty eight degrees. It’s also the start of a Bank Holiday weekend, I have guests arriving and I have to go to the supermarket. It’s a less than perfect end to a hard day. Normally I wouldn’t dream of doing the shopping on Friday–any Friday–but, for various reasons, I haven’t been able to get near the supermarket all week so I must bite the bullet.
As I pull into the nearby car park, someone else pulls out at the ideal moment and I park up with no trouble. I even find the right change for the ticket machine. Things are looking up. Just as I lock the car door, there’s a loud metallic thump behind me and the sound of brakes applied hard. This is followed by a string of expletives. Someone has backed out without looking properly and narrowly avoided hitting the couple walking behind. The thump was the husband’s fist hitting the boot to alert the driver to their presence. The couple look shaken but, fortunately, no-one is hurt.
On reaching the store, I find a trolley and my list and set out along the road to the aisles. All goes well until I reach Fresh Produce where there are alarming numbers of empty boxes on display. It’s only ten past four and, although this is a smaller branch of a big chain, the shop doesn’t close till eight. It will open again tomorrow. Demand will be great. Nevertheless, salad vegetables are looking scarce and I can’t see any half cucumbers.
Beside me, another lady looks wistfully at the empty box where the lemons ought to be. Seeing a member of staff across the aisle she calls him over and points this out. I add that there aren’t any half cucumbers either. The young man is a trainee manager. He informs my companion that there will be no lemons until Tuesday morning. This doesn’t look good for the lemon meringue pie she’s hoping to make this evening. As for me, if I need cucumber I must buy a whole one. There is a boxful of these. It’s the only full box in a sea of empty ones, but he gestures towards it as though it might somehow have escaped my attention. I explain politely that I don’t want a whole cucumber. A whole cucumber is too much, even with salad-eating guests. Most of it will lie forgotten in the crisper compartment until it becomes a pulpy green mess. I go on to suggest that some of the whole ones could be cut in half; people eat salad in hot weather; the shop is busy and there is likely to be more demand. There may be a rush on half cucumbers at any moment. My suggestion is ignored and the young man’s expression implies that it is too much trouble to help me, that my request is trivial and that I am somehow being awkward. I hadn’t meant to be but now I am resolved. Keeping my voice level, I ask politely but firmly to speak to the manager.
Some minutes later this individual appears. He is an older man and utterly charming. His face registers appropriate concern when I explain the situation. I realise that, in the great scheme of things, my request may seem trivial but it is not trivial to me. Besides, in all its advertising, this supermarket chain prides itself on customer care. I can see no practical evidence of this. Yet I am a loyal customer. I add to their multi-million pound coffers every week…
He listens with polite attention and then assures me that the problem will be dealt with. Taking a cucumber from the display, he asks me to bear with him for five minutes. Then he strides purposefully towards the door marked Staff Only. For a second I wonder whether he’s gone to look for the trainee manager I spoke to earlier, and what injuries might be inflicted with a salad vegetable. Rather disappointingly there are no screams so I decide that he must have gone to look for a knife instead. While I’m waiting I manage to locate the other things I need from this section of the shop.
As promised, after five minutes the manager returns with the cucumber. It is still whole, only now it has a Reduced label on it. He explains that it is difficult to change a bar code once an item has been priced. It’s far easier to give me a whole cucumber marked down to half price. I still don’t want a whole one but feel it would be churlish to say so. Instead I thank him for his help and we part amicably.
When I get to Dairy Produce a short time later I meet up again with the lady who couldn’t have any lemons. Noticing the cut-price cucumber in my trolley she is generous enough to be pleased for me, but adds sadly that she’ll have to cross town to find another supplier of fruit. Thinking of the heat, the traffic and the crowds I don’t envy her, but wish her the best of luck anyway.
I’m turning towards the check out when I hear a familiar voice exclaiming in resentful tones over the absence of yogurt. It is the lady who was almost run over in the car park. Looking even more annoyed now, she is demanding to know how a supermarket can have run out of yogurt at half past four on the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend. No answer is forthcoming, only sympathetic looks from other customers. Dismissing yogurt in pithy terms, she informs her husband that they need fruit and veg. As they set off towards Fresh Produce I find myself hoping that she doesn’t need half a cucumber – or a lemon.
A Few Cucumbers more