STEVE CANAVAN: Lessons in modern living: part 56 Checkout Etiquette

Few things are more annoying than checkout ditherers.
Few things are more annoying than checkout ditherers.

As if further proof were required that I am getting old and increasingly cantankerous, I got in a bit of a strop in the supermarket the other day.

I had nipped there to buy milk, bread and Mrs Canavan’s extra-strong haemorrhoid cream and headed to the till, which is, I’ve discovered through experience, custom when you want to purchase something.

I spotted a till with just one customer at it, so hot-footed it over. The customer in question was a woman in her 60s, wearing slightly too much lipstick and a knitted cardigan so awful I can only assume she purchased it under duress.

She had clearly done her weekly shop and had dozens of items but, I noted with annoyance, didn’t start bagging them up as the cashier scanned them but just stood there motionless, as if expecting a personal servant to magically appear from nowhere to do her packing for her. This is a serious bugbear of mine. I mean, why wouldn’t you pack your shopping as it’s being scanned? Why would you wait? For me it’s a crime on a par with armed robbery, GBH and child abduction, and deserves a similar jail sentence.

‘That’ll be £57.35,’ said the bloke behind the till when he’d scanned the last item – a packet of slightly manky-looking tomatoes with a ‘Reduced to £1.15’ sticker on them.

‘Now, I have a few money-off vouchers,’ the woman announced and slowly began rummaging in her purse before, after several long seconds, pulling out about 17 different scraps of paper. ‘I’m not sure how many of these apply but I’ve definitely got one for the Hobnobs.’

Then, after a moment’s more rummaging, she let out a yelp of delight and pulled out another bit of paper. ‘Oh, and this one is 25 pence off the ham.’ She couldn’t have looked happier had she discovered at the bottom of her purse a small nugget of gold and tickets to an Ed Sheeran concert.

“Right, well do you want me to scan them all and see how many we can use?” asked the cashier. ‘That would be ideal,’ said the women.

I stood behind, observing all this, torn between trying to look as if I didn’t have a care in the world or screaming out what I was really feeling – FOR GOD’S SAKE WOMAN, CAN YOU GET A MOVE ON? AND WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GET THAT CARDIGAN?

This whole exchange took about two minutes – only four of the 17 vouchers worked  –  and then the woman slowly got her bank card out and spent a further two minutes attempting to type in her four-number pin code – getting it wrong twice; well, four numbers are a lot to remember - before the transaction was finally, mercifully complete.

‘Thank you very much,’ she said, and carefully put her purse back in her bag, buttoning and zipping it up. Then she turned her head to the right and stopped, looked confused, and stared at her shopping in dumbfounded fashion as though it were the first time she’d ever seen it. ‘Oh dear,’ she said, turning back to the cashier. ‘I’d better have a couple of bags too.’

Now I’m a fairly patient man but it was at this point I had an overwhelming urge to put her in a headlock, punch her lightly four times in the face, and frogmarch her from the premises. ‘That’ll be another 10 pence for the bags,’ said the cashier.

She let out a sigh, as if this were unexpected news and began the laborious process of unzipping and unbuttoning her bag and rummaging around for her purse.

A marvellous thing happened then. She took a 10p coin from her purse and was about to hand it to the cashier when she realised she could make the 10p up in small change. Totally oblivious to the people waiting – three more people had now joined the queue and were, like me, staring at this women as if they wanted to put a bag over her head and hold it tight until she stopped breathing – she counted out two 2p coins and six one pences.

‘There you go,’ she said, handing them over with the satisfaction of a women who had kept a 10p coin intact. And then – and only then – did she begin to turn her attention to the task of putting her shopping in her bags.

I held my three items in the air and looked pleadingly at the cashier, silently begging him to serve me so I could get on with my day.

However, there is clearly a policy in supermarkets that a customer has to remove all their items from the conveyor belt before the next customer can be served for he refused to scan my tiny bit of shopping, meaning we all had to stand in rather awkward silence while this woman bagged, with painstaking care, her goods.

Nine minutes after I had arrived at the till –  I know because I timed it – I was finally served and I had overtaken the woman in front of me before she had even exited the store. I gave her what I hoped was a withering stare as I passed but she didn’t notice as she was too busy studying her receipt, presumably in the hope she had been overcharged by 7p and could return for a refund.

Next time I go shopping, I’ll be very careful who I queue behind.