Delay and inconvenience

The other day I decided to buy fruit and vegetables, not at the supermarket, but at the local independent greengrocer and fishmonger that has stood on Beeston High St for over a century. It is a friendly and excellent local institution (pretty advanced in non-use of plastic bags, incidentally) and I should go there more often.

It took me a little while to get in the door, because not only are there stalls outside, but on this particular day there were several parents with buggies, including one particularly wide one whose driver didn’t seem to realise how much she was blocking the entrance. The situation was described good-humouredly and accurately as a “traffic jam” by waiting shoppers. No one got cross, but this reminded me of a post I had planned a while back.

When I shop, alas more often, in a supermarket, I can usually get in quickly, and sail up and down the aisles without much disruption, other than conversation with friends I may happen to meet.

With my little basket or rather bigger trolley, I then roll towards a checkout, usually preferring the ones manned by humans, rather than the machines which will humiliate me for putting an unexpected item in the bagging area.

Sometimes there are people in front of me, and I have to wait for my turn to be served. This is an opportunity to make conversation with others in the line, or analyse the contents of their trolleys, or just sail away on the waves of aimless thought. But one doesn’t want to sail too long, because time is precious, and is there any more annoying way of spending time than standing in a queue?

But wait, it gets worse. The check-out assistants may need to change shift. The previous customer may be a slow payer or packer. One of their items may have lost its barcode. Or I may just have chosen a busy time, and find four or five people in front of me. Thursday afternoon is not the best time for Sainsbury’s, but I keep forgetting.

I get delayed, and my time is precious. I get cross.

Of course, instead of quietly fuming, I could use the opportunity to practise and develop the virtue of patience, one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. If I had a very Biblical mindset, I might even be grateful for the training in holiness that this kind of minor annoyance provides.

The supermarket probably doesn’t expect me to, and so it searches for ways to cut the queues. It may send out a tannoy appeal: “All trained checkout operatives report to the cash desk”. It may employ someone to scurry about, directing customers to the quieter checkouts. According to a Tesco advert a while back, some shops have an actual policy of opening a new till if there’s too long a queue (how does this work? Do they have the staff, or don’t they?)

These policies are wise, because if Tesco (or Aldi or Waitrose or Iceland) gets a name for shorter queues than Sainsbury’s (or Morrison’s or the Co-op or Lidl), customers, other things being equal, are likely to go there. Customers do not give brownie points to shops that train them in patience.

These days, an irritation or a delay or a traffic jam is something to be solved, preferably by someone else. It is not a means of mortifying the flesh, and disciplining the soul, as our ancestors might perhaps have thought.

(When I went on holiday to Japan recently, it was very tempting to think that about 48 hours at each end of the trip were wasted, being largely taken up in travel. Bus, hired car, train, plane, security, airport stuff including a five-hour delay…

What a waste of time.

Yes, I am so spoilt that I think travelling from Nottingham across the world in two days is tedious. Two hundred years ago, how far could I have travelled in one day? A bit further than Derby?)

As a consumer, I want other people to give me everything I want, instantly. The desire is natural. But is it healthy? Shouldn’t we all start to get used to waiting longer, having less choice (especially of seasonal products), regarding long-distance travel as a rare luxury that takes time as well as money?

But it’s still to the supermarket’s advantage to pander to our impatience, rather than encourage us to be patient.

And there’s another side of the coin, which is that improving people’s lives is a good thing, and in the case of medicine, a life-saving thing. But that’s enough for one post.

Love from the PPI Blogger 

PS Due to holidays, the blog will take a break for two weeks.

  • Malachi Malagowther

    12th July 2019 at 6:03 pm Reply

    Your desire for more delays, less travel and a general mortification of the flesh should all eventually be granted to you as if by a benevolent genie. There are increasing numbers of walls going up in Israel, Ceuta, South-Eastern Europe and the southern USA. Of course you may not get to see them as Britain moves towards a carbon neutral economy where if you even want to go to Derby you ought to walk and scatter apple seeds or plant seedlings along the way. Eventually, though you won’t be able to go further than your zimmer frame will take you and you will end up waiting, if not for Godo, at least for a visitor to come and brighten your day.

  • Alan Darley

    13th July 2019 at 10:42 am Reply

    Great post Penelope. I relate to these thoughts. I also get impatient with people in front of me when I’m trying to leave a store and suddenly stop in the exit and block me. Unlike drivers they rarely look in their miror so to speak before they stop!

  • Judith Leader

    13th July 2019 at 10:08 pm Reply

    I have always felt bemused that people often complain that the local shops are closing down and then buy stuff from supermarkets. The shop you mentioned (Hallams) buys things in seasons from local buyers, their prices are comparable in most cases and he always has special offers such as bags of tomatoes which means I have to roast them and make tomato sauce which is a fag. I know a tin of tomatoes would be cheaper, but this is much nicer. The staff are lovely and you get to know them. Yes there is a traffic jam, but people are good natured and it doesn’t seem to matter. The fish is more expensive as they go daily to Grimsby (that is why the fish counter is closed on Monday). I rarely eat meat or fish but I buy all my fruit and veg there, except when I am in Victoria Market, where I get my nuts and I will buy some veg there on occasions.

    There are cheaper places and if you have a family and are on limited income (I don’t mean I have money to throw away, but I know what it is like to have very little money) I can understand why they might go somewhere else.

    It is hard juggling time and money, but if we can I think we should use local shops.

  • Ellie Wallace-Howell

    31st August 2019 at 1:48 pm Reply

    I am inspired by Greta Thunberg’s decision to sail across the Atlantic to the UN Climate Action Summit. She just arrived a few days ago after 2 weeks of travel. I’m paraphrasing her but she said something like “I want to be seen doing something instead of nothing”.

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