They invite you to press a button at the start which says I am using my own bags. So you press it and assume that, the fact being now established, you may proceed to scan your barcodes without further interrogation. And so you do, but the machine is still suspicious, and at the end of the procedure it double checks. Do you need any more bags? it asks with a hint of constabulary function creeping into its demeanour. And then it gives you a keyboard on which you must choose a number, thereby forcing you to make a statement which may be used against you in a court of law should you be lying. But you’re not lying; you really don’t need any bags, so you press 0 and Enter, hoping the machine will now be satisfied. It isn’t. It still thinks you might be a ne’er-do-well trying to rob the corporate giant of 5p while circumventing the weight of statute in the process. It tells you to place your bag in the bagging area. But the only bag you have is your backpack, so what do you do? You place your backpack in the bagging area, whereupon the machine begins to swoon visibly, crying in anguish as it does so:
Can’t compute Can’t compute Can’t compute (or some such.)
And then it enters a state of catatonic seizure and has to be revived by the tender ministrations of a trained and patient assistant. There being no smelling salts to hand, you want to give it your handkerchief at least, and say ‘please feel free to keep it,’ only you can’t because nobody carries handkerchiefs these days…
I only wanted two bottles of beer. They have Bass at £1 a bottle, which is pretty cheap for a 500ml bottle of premium beer at 4.4% ABV, and such things matter to a taste as refined as mine. I couldn’t face the neurotic machine, so I went to a checkout instead.
It was manned, if you’ll excuse the term, by a rather narrow and florid young man who was twiddling his fingers nervously.
‘I decided to come to you instead of that damned neurotic machine,’ I said.
‘Right, boss,’ he replied.
Boss? Nobody calls anybody ‘boss’ these days, but his manner grew stranger. He began moving nervously from one foot to the other and back again. He regarded the screen nervously. He waited nervously for verbal instructions between operations. I wondered whether he’d become infected with the dreaded Neurotic Tendency through being in too close proximity to the machine. He kept on calling me ‘boss,’ and I began to form the notion that he was a part-timer, maybe an overgrown Boy Scout doing Christmas voluntary work.
‘That’ll be two pounds, boss,’ he said in tones somewhat short of dulcet, which prompted the inconsequential assumption that he was as gay as a eunuch’s girlfriend. I gave him a £5 note and he handed three pound coins back. ‘That’s your change, boss,’ he continued.
I avoided the urge to say ‘I know,’ but stood rapt as he thanked me for shopping at Asda and instructed me to have a nice day (and a Happy New Year, and a safe trip home.) And all for two bottles of cheap beer. Just thought I’d mention it.
(I needed a couple of drinks before deciding to post this. I do realise that presuming the man to be ‘gay as a eunuch’s girlfriend’ – and having the temerity to state as much – is quite inadmissible, but I just can’t resist coining phrases to spread Christmas cheer at this time of year.)