It being that I loathe all human contact, the supermarket self checkout always looks like an attractive prospect. I probably hate smiling at the cashier whilst they scan my tampons more than they hate smiling at me. So I think I'll save us both the trouble and do it myself.
Thirty seconds in and I regret it, every time.
It starts with something small; you're trying to buy a packet of basil and the machine is desperately confused. "Basil, she says," thinks the machine. "I can't sense any basil. It certainly doesn't feel like there's any basil on me. For reasons unbeknownst to anyone in their right mind the customer must simply not have placed the basil in the bagging area..."
I become frantic almost immediately. Post traumatic supermarket disorder sets in. No. No. Not this. Not this again, I remember this -
"Basil, my arse. Time to shut this whole operation down," thinks the paranoid self checkout machine.
"Have you placed the item in the bagging area?" it asks, out loud.
"Yes," I reply, panic rising through me.
"Stop lying," it thinks. "Assistance is on its way."
Assistance shuffles over about ten minutes later in the form of a very bored seventeen year old with a little slip of paper. What I wouldn't give to have one of those little slips of paper, which take away the pain, all of it, with one flick of the wrist over the barcode reader. He looks for the basil. It is in the bagging area, where I left it. He shrugs, flicks the magic paper, and goes to the person next door, who is in exactly the same boat.
Next, I weigh my tomatoes. Obviously, it's not as simple as just weighing some tomatoes. First, you have to search high and low on the system for them. They're not even on the list of 'most bought items'. What planet do we live on, where more people buy a cinnamon Danish than a tomato? WHERE AM I? After I've broken several nails typing 't-o-m-a' on the touchscreen, the system allows me to proceed. I feel a rushing sense of achievement, until -
"Unexpected item in bagging area. Are you using your own bag?"
DO I LOOK F*CKING STUPID TO YOU? WHY WOULD I PUT MYSELF THROUGH THE TOTAL AND UTTER AGONY OF USING MY OWN BAG?
I've tried using my own bag, of course. My childhood home was where carrier bags went to die. My mum could get years out of one, flogging it like a seaside donkey and folding it up under the sink until next time. We were saving the planet.
Yeah, try taking one of those bad boys to the self service checkout. You pull it out of your pocket, place it in the allocated bagging area and the stupid machine HAS NO IDEA THAT IT'S THERE. "Please wait for assistance," it says, clearly whispering "you lying bitch" under its breath. NO, GOD NO, NOT AGAIN. The red light is flashing above your checkout. Of course, everyone else is having the same problem as you. There are no assistants available. You could just use one of their bags, you suppose. But think of all the bag-reuse Nectar points you'd miss out on then.
Next time, you try a different tack. You take a rucksack. "Are you using your own bag?" the machine asks. Why yes, you say, and press the according button, putting it down. "Unexpected item in -"
IS IT UNEXPECTED
IF YOU ASKED ME IF I HAD IT WITH ME
AND I SAID YES
AND PLACED IT
IN THE BAGGING AREA?
The assistant comes over again. We're old friends now. "It's not meant for those kind of bags," he says, staring at my rucksack as if it is some gargantuan suitcase full of rocks and bodies. I fight the urge to scream. A stifled wail comes out.
The only way to do it is to leave your bag on the floor and make a mad rush at the end to shove everything into it before you hear
"Please remove your items from the bagging area."
YES I'm TRYING, will you GIVE ME A SECOND Jesus God
I leave the supermarket weeping, a sweaty, shaking mess, hyperventilating and dropping bits of shopping on the pavement, swearing that I'll never do that again, but knowing that I definitely will because, regardless of the suffering I have just endured, I remain desperately relieved that I didn't have to make eye contact with a stranger as they swiped the barcode on my Tampax Pearls.