Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Somerfield; or the miracle of market research


My local supermarket, Somerfield, has recently replaced their ubiquitous plastic basket, that symbol of global standardization, with a new and improved basket, twice as deep, and tapered on the bottom. It’s like shopping with a gardening bucket. I’m sure the tapered design was meant to echo the straw panniers of French markets, allowing loose vegetables to spill gloriously over the edges like Nigella Lawson’s naughty bath fantasies, however, all it does is make it exceedingly difficult for the people of Cricklewood to balance their fish fingers on their chicken kievs. Best, or worst, of all is what I imagine these research and development geniuses consider the coup d’etat: an extendable handle and set of wheels, which allows this new wonder-bucket to be placed on the floor and dragged along like a cosmopolitan Louis Vuitton luggage set, or an old lady shopping trolley.

I’m in Somerfield, doing a weekly shop. I do pride myself on being able to handle change, but I cannot handle this. For one thing, the shopping bucket’s elegant tapered design tapers to a point the size of a mouse’s testicle, meaning that the first part of my shopping ritual is already spoiled. Generally, I go first to the newspaper rack and take a copy of the Guardian. It’s excellent berliner format fit the dimensions of the standard shopping basket precisely, and I would lay the Guardian down on the bottom of the basket, like a bird lining its nest. What am I supposed to do this time? I think. “Well I suppose,” I mumble to myself, and roll the newspaper up. Polly Toynbee’s sensible face will be creased like a drying dish towel now, I think, and something irrevocably dies inside me.

It gets worse. The new shopping buckets are twice as heavy as the old ones, which I imagine is the consequence of R&D geniuses trying to force people to use their slick wheelie trolley design: “lets put these lead weights in strategic and unbalanced places so that not only will old ladies not want to carry the basket in their hands, it’ll break all their bones if they try to! Yayyy!!!!” Tossers.

But I refuse to play their game. I’m a twenty-five year old man, I’m not prepared to wheel around my shopping bucket like I’m acknowledging the unstoppable approach of Senor Death. Fuck that. So I shop, defiantly, basket in hand, vegetables, meats and cheeses stacking upon each other like the world’s worst game of Tetris. But it gets even worse. The extra long size of the bucket, while not actually accommodating extra goods due to its patented mouse-testicle taper, means that the edge of the bucket bashes into your knees with every step you take. As you set off on your weekly shopping adventure, it’s merely frustrating. Later, when the bucket is filled to the brim and rather heavy, it’s agonizing. I must be bruising, I think, I bruise very easily, after all… that’s what people say all the time, isn’t it? Maybe I don’t bruise easily. But I’ll bet I’m bruising now. Maybe I could show my bruise to the checkout lady and get a bit of a discount.

“That’s it!” I suddenly cry. “I’m doing it, I don’t care!” I put the basket on the floor, extend the handle and wheel forward. A thousand angels sing; it’s heaven. This, I think, is the glory of the aged. I feel the years pile on to me and a grin spread on my face as I wheel my basket to the checkout. Good times up ahead, everybody.

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