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The agony of choice June 20, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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It’s a battle of wills every time I leave the house to do my favourite thing in the whole world now that I’ve given up smoking, going to the supermarket. It was worse in the old days when I hadn’t worked out how better to spend money I didn’t have and no-frills supermarkets were also in the picture. But now that my wallet’s packed full of cards and I am, therefore, rich, the battle of wills – my wills – is down to two. I turn right out of the front door and hurl abuse at everyone walking in the direction of Lidl. “No-frills scum-king,” I shout, without even an offer of a translation.

But what about when I come to the junction of our humble street and the biggish street close by? If I do a left, it’s only a step or two to Edeka which is cheaper than the competition but still good enough to make me think I’m one of life’s winners. Or I can do a right and get to Rewe. Further away. But bigger so sort of better. They have the odd male cashier, which is a minor thrill. And also take credit cards which can be a deciding factor when I need the shopping to be free.

Yet now that my supermarket habits no longer leave any room for doubts as to my one-of-life’s-winners status and there is no great difference really between the fairly piss-poor range of comestibles on offer, and as I am an indecisive type, I can sometimes spend as long as three to four days standing at the junction, reasoning with myself, sometimes rather loudly, about which way to turn.

“Edeka,” I’ll shout at myself to the consternation of imaginationless passers-by. “Only a total wanker would go to Rewe.” Then I scrabble around on the ground for a bit, fetching myself almighty blows round the chops, and get back up, crying, and then remonstrate with myself, “No, Rewe. Rewe’s bottle machine gives you a breakdown of the type of bottle you’ve returned. Edeka’s doesn’t. Loser.” Then I beat the shit out of myself a bit more and pull my hair out. And toss a coin when I can’t bear it any longer.

Both supermarkets now have cafés. This used to be a matter of little import. But Marsha changed all that. I wandered off one morning, braced for the junction ruck. Stopped by the letter box. A parcel. From Marsha. Of comedy. I was so stunned by her generosity – more generosity in that single gesture than I’ve had out of the Russian in 24 years (or something like that) of blissful togetherness though he did tenderly say recently that maybe we weren’t so bad after all – that I had to go to Edeka. As it was, I barely made it. Reeling from her kindness, I had to do the last few metres on all-fours.

Sustenance was called for. Edeka’s café is plastic and sterile enough but blow me if I didn’t have seats to the best theatre in Berlin. So much to watch! The wishing cashier wished me so many good things – appetite, day, rest of my life – that I felt very at peace with the world. Workmen happened to be working on the automatic doors. The in-charge one looked at the same bit of ceiling from inside and out and shook his head. His minion did likewise and played with his mobile phone. A dog was tied up inside the entrance to the supermarket and stared out forlornly, like an old lady hoping someone might come to visit. An old lady who looked a bit like the old lady the dog looked like came to pet the dog. It continued its forlorn look for a couple of seconds, then snarled and gnashed and went for her jugular, practically throttling itself as its lead refused to unfurl any further.

But today I needed the shopping to be free. Trolled off to Rewe. Whizzed my way round, knowing that I’d reward myself with a stale sandwich and a nice cup of machine coffee at the end of it. Rewe’s café is even less charming than Edeka’s but, oddly, it has its own gallery attached. So while I can commend the setting even less, it gets extra points for the cultural angle.

I hurtled my goods into my plastic bags. Distributed the weight evenly. Looked admiringly at an old couple who’d been together so long they seemed to have lived beyond the wishing-each-other-dead stage who were carefully going through their receipt, checking off item against item. Returned my trolley. Got myself a half-sandwich and coffee and sat down ready to peruse some art.

Water-colour and pencil vaginas if you don’t mind! Bet you wouldn’t get that at Tesco’s in Ruislip.

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Comments»

1. wyndham - June 20, 2008

Given up the ciggies, aye? You’re doing better than me, young man.

2. sylvia - June 20, 2008

You’re doing very well to allow yourself a sit down in the cafe. I got very miserable in M&S today in Colliers Wood – all lovely and new. Wish I was all lovely and new and not a crumpled lardy lump who can’t fit into any of the clothes. As a punishment, I denied myself a trip to the lovely cafe for a cappuccino.
I don’t care that it was after 11am, when no self respecting Italian would be seen dead with a cappuccino. I denied myself one all the same.
Yes, I know, I need to get a life….

3. d.z. bodenbergq - June 21, 2008

Water-colour and pencil vaginas if you don’t mind! Bet you wouldn’t get that at Tesco’s in Ruislip.

In Asda in Dagenham you just get people (often still technically children themselves) hitting their kids while eating a family meal of a service-station style greasy spoon all-day breakfast. Who says tradition has died out?

4. Sil - June 21, 2008

Sorry, BiB, this is totally unrelated, but I was reminded of your writing style while reading this neat piece in The New Yorker: “Antiheroes” http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2008/06/23/080623sh_shouts_saunders

Keep on blogging!

5. sylvia - June 21, 2008

Actually, I’ve just read your post properly – does your love of supermarkets actually involve any shopping? Because if it does, are you willing to offer your services to a jaded supermarket shopper like myself? I seem to spen my life going from Lidl to Waitrose to Iceland to Sainsburys in a vain, nay Sisyphian, quest to keep my family fed. Yes, I’m the original supermarket slapper – no loyalty at all.
Still, at this rate, we won’t have any money soon so all this flitting about will be academic – we’ll be growing our own!

6. BiB - June 24, 2008

Sylvia, oh yes. I enjoy the shopping part of it very much. Do you mean I could perhaps seek employment as some folk’s shopper? I enjoy the whole ritual of it. And find it relaxing enough. (I live in a wasteland and the supermarket is always utterly empty.) And I pay by card, which means it’s free. Yes, I love it all… And I have to say I’m perfectly happy to have bemilked coffee after 11am. Why do the Italians deny themselves the pleasure after that ill-chosen hour?

Sil, thank you. That’s fantastically nice of you to say so. And I feel very unworthy of being mentioned in the same week as the man who wrote that article, whom I don’t know at all, but I’ll get round to reading some of his other stuff too. And, yes, I’ll keep on blogging for now, encouraged by your kind words.

D.Z., but do you mean that Asda in Dagenham has a café or they do that as they stroll up and down the aisles, in which case they at least deserve a pat on the back for co-ordination and being able to multi-task. I was often my mother’s companion as she lugged me and the shopping around and then home from Sainsbury’s. I don’t suppose I was ever much help, but it feels like only yesterday that I could fit in that seat, presumably kicking her when she refused to buy me chocolate.

Wynders, it’s been over 8 months now. Oddly, I’ve started really gagging for one recently. I don’t expect to succumb, necessarily, especially as I so convinced myself I’d never smoke again, but I do think it would be better if I went back on the wagon if I am determined to avoid temptation.

7. Geoff - June 24, 2008

ooo, BiB, can you come and shop for me too please? There may be some practicalities to sort out given the distance, but it can’t be insurmountable with modern technology. I suffer from the same agony of choice except in the supermarket – I’ve been known to walk around in circles for hours on end with an empty basket, paralysed by the choice. I think I’d have been better off living in an old communist country to be honest.

8. zoeleon - June 25, 2008

I cannot believe it has been 8 months, but however you’ve managed, definitely keep it up. Every day off is lengthening your life expectancy!!! I SO admire ex-smokers, what strength of will you have!

9. oyebilly - June 25, 2008

I’m quite a fan of the supermarkets. Do you ever get tempted to open a packet of cheese straws (for example) and walk around eating them?

10. BiB - June 27, 2008

Billy, I’m always struck dumb in admiration for people who dare to start eating what’s in their basket before they’ve got to the till. I’m much too repressed and rule-bound for anything so daring. I do sometimes chomp through a banana the second it’s been swiped, though.

Zoeleon, yep, eight months and counting. Or sort of not counting, I suppose. (You’re not a smoker, are you?) It is, indeed, a question of will. More mind over matter, for me, than a physical thing, I think. Would happily smoke 40 cigarettes this second but suppose I’ll stay off ’em.

Geoff, as long as the supermarket’s lay-out isn’t too geometrically eccentric, I’d happily do your shopping for you. But what is this thing choice you talk about? We’re much less spoiled for it here and, in any case, I am practically on auto-pilot whenever I step on the supermarket’s hallowed ground. The same old things every time. Auto-pilot only deactivates when I see a reduction.

11. Marsha Klein - June 29, 2008

A “parcel of comedy” sounds so lovely – I wish it was possible to really send one.

12. BiB - July 1, 2008

Marsha, it is possible, and you did it, for which, again, a squillion thank yous.

Alternatively, would a jack-in-the-box count?


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