Saturday, 30 June 2007

The local Co-op

It's Saturday, and there's no breakfast for me.

Dig has eaten the last crumpet and Tiger has eaten my muesli. Or rather, she has hand-picked out all the nuts, seeds and fruity bits and has left a packet of oat flakes behind. That's not too appetising, actually, hand-turned oat flakes. There's still an issue about handwashing after visiting the toilet in this house, so I'm not chancing them. There are three packs of Cheerios, which Squirrel managed to get from me last week in Tesco despite me having said I will never ever buy any cereals like that, ever. Ever. So don't ask.

Anyway, Squirrel knows how to play her cards right. That and Tesco's bogof offer, which ensures product flies off the shelves, so better take four packs now because the offer ends on Sunday. I of course do not endorse and never fall for marketing gimmicks like this, but things are a bit tight round here right now. I told myself, and Squirrel, that the 25% sugar content would be a useful energy rush on Saturdays when she needs to run about, trying to hit a tennis ball that's being carefully aimed at her racquet in her tennis lesson. I shouted this at the checkout so everyone would know I am not a bad mother feeding sugar muck to her kids because she has been sweet-talked into it by a Squirrel and because it is cheap. I'm not sure anyone would have heard anyway there, what with the packs of Cheerios being slapped down on conveyor belts all around me, and the noise from the plastic bags, tills, and trolleys.

Well today I've been up since 7.30 and I've had no breakfast. And I'm not going to Tesco, partly because they will force me to buy cheap sugar muck, but also because I'm feeling I need to be very carbon neutral now, having driven Tiger backwards and forwards to her violin lesson already today. I feel the need for an ethical walk to the Co-op.

There are three tills at our local Co-op. I've never seen all three of them used at the same time, no matter how long the queue. They have two working today. And I bet the job description for working at the Co-op must be that employees should be extremely elderly and slow. Particularly, they should be moving at glacial speed when using the tills, or managing to get the things not to work at all, which is what happens in today's shopping trip.

Sandra, grey-haired and dumpy, looking like she's had too many children and not enough grand-children, is hammering the buttons on her till and with each strike she utters a tut. After a few minutes of this, she mutters something to herself, then shouts over to the other checkout lady called Vi. Vi is short and round with white hair and glasses, which are on a string round her neck. She has a sucked-in mouth, like she's forgotten to put her teeth in this morning. Vi squeezes past the tills, and the displays, through the customer queue which parts to let her pass, and walks slowly to the door marked 'Staff'.

All the while, the queue of customers is steadily growing, up the aisle and past the sugar. We're all standing there, with one or two items for a Saturday morning. Most are elderly. There's a shrunken lady with dark brown dyed hair, a shock of sudden mahogony over her wrinkled face. There's an elderly gentleman with a corkscrewed spine, leaning on a stick, and a bent-double lady with a three-wheeled walking aid taking up all the room by the first till, still waiting to pay. Behind me there's a young man, with his can of coke, sighing.

After a few minutes two ladies emerge from the door marked 'Staff'. Vi brings out Dot, who looks like the Co-op stores were built around her so she stayed since the day they opened. She has a curving, sloping walk, and looks like she needs some sort of walking assistance to keep her going in the right direction. They very slowly walk over to the tills, Dot making hand gestures to the air as she worries about her husband, Bob, who's doing badly. She had to call the doctor to him, and he ended up in hospital again, like she told him he would.

When Vi and Dot reach the tills, there's some more muttering and punching of buttons and the till bursts open. There's a bit of a clap from a bloke in the queue by the tea who's wearing a vest and looks like he's doing a morning shift at the engineering works in the town. The slow hand clap's accompanied by bit of sniggering from two teenagers with a packet of doughnuts and some instant coffee. The chap behind me heaves a deep sigh of relief. Because we now have three tills, and three checkout ladies. Things are looking up.

Not for long. With not a word to the growing line of customers with shuffling feet, Dot starts to make her slow and curving way back, round the back of the tills, past the display of South African wines, 3 for £10, and through the queue of customers. The elderly gentleman with a walking stick in front of me smiles at her and dutifully moves to let her through. He probably knows what it is to have to walk like Dot. The chap behind me can't take any more. He throws his can of Coke into a basket of chocolate and saunters from the Co-op, shaking his head.

After 20 minutes I pay for my loaf of bread and punnet of reduced plums and walk back home, sure I've got a twinge of back pain after standing so long and looking forward to breakfast at last. And I make a resolution that Squirrel will have to abandon Tesco for a while and stand with me in the queue at the Co-op so she can learn about patience, and Sandra, and Vi, and Dot.

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