Torture At Till 17

Did the person who invented self-service supermarket checkouts do it to torture parents who need to 'nip in' for a few bits and bobs when they have their offspring in tow?

My local supermarket (one I can walk to rather than drive to) has only four manned checkouts. Well, I say 'manned' – there are four which COULD be manned, but only two of them ever are.

Conversely, there are probably 20 self-service checkouts which, with their minuscule proportions and propensities to bring grown men and women close to tears, I can only assume were designed as some sort of punishment, perhaps for not buying enough groceries in one go (something that's challenging in the company of small people).

Generally, supermarket shopping is easier for me now than it used to be. When the girls were very little, I used to pop them both in the trolley, and stick a large bag of rice cakes between them. This would give me approximately 20 minutes to rush around the store, before they demolished their snack and started making impossible demands, for example, for me to make them ham baguettes IMMEDIATELY.

These days, with Ava at school, I rarely go shopping with both the girls. When I do though, I can actually transform a supermarket trip into a form of entertainment – we make a list and they take it in turns to spot the things we need.

It keeps them busy enough to (sometimes) not notice the huge displays of biscuits, or the aisle with the comics (which presumably are so bloody expensive because of the 'free' plastic item which is invariably stuck on the front).

Well, last week, with it being half term, the girls both came with me to pick up some bits and pieces. In between finds, I unerringly uttered: "Nope, we don't need that!". I only got fleeced to the tune of one small pack of dried fruit, so all in all, the hunting and gathering went well.

But the checkout. Oh, the checkout.

Deep down, I KNEW it would be more sensible to just wait in line for 25 minutes, so someone else could scan our shopping. But the considerably faster moving queue to do that self-service malarky was just too much to resist.

Within a minute we had been beckoned to a very small checkout. I put down the heavily laden basket, and organised the children (or rather, squashed them into the space between me and the buggy of the woman next to me).

I pressed 'start' on the screen.

"I want to help!" Ava and Ruby said in unison.

Hmm... I thought. And I should have just replied: "Not likely!" but they were enjoying themselves doing grown up shopping.

"OK," I said. "One at a time then."

Ruby immediately grabbed a four-pint carton of milk and struggled to get it up to the scanner.

"Maybe you guys should just scan the smaller things?" I suggested. But Ruby heaved the milk over the scanner which dutifully beeped.

"Please place the item in the bagging area..." the till politely requested.

Ruby sort of dropped the milk into the bagging area. I picked it up again, so I could open a bag in the bagging area, and then put the milk into the bag.

"An item has been removed from the bagging area..." the till scolded. "Please wait for assistance."

I put the milk in the bag and put the bag in the bagging area.

"Checking item's weight..." the till told me.

""Oh, Ru!" I said. "Don't lean on the bagging area!"

"Saw-wwwwy!" said Ru.

Ava had grabbed a packet of ham and was waving it in front of the scanner. But the scanner wasn't beeping because we apparently still had to wait for assistance.

So Ava made a 'beep' noise herself and, being the wrong side of the self-service checkout, sort of chucked the ham (not into a bag) into the bagging area.

"Unexpected item in bagging area..." the till said. "Please wait for assistance."

I removed the ham and asked Ava to hold it. She repeatedly beeped while I waved to get the attention of a surly 'assistant', who ambled over, slapped her staff card against the screen, punched in a number, and ambled off again without looking at me.

"Right!" I said. "Ava, you can scan the ham now."

Ava waved the ham in front of the scanner and beeped.

I mean Ava beeped. The till did NOT beep, DESPITE the fact we had been 'assisted'.

Presumably, Ava thought the most important thing was that there was a beep noise, and it didn't matter whether she had beeped or the till had. So she chucked the ham (not into the bag) into the bagging area.

"Unexpected item in bagging area..." the till said.

I picked up the ham and bit my lip to stop myself swearing at it. "I'll scan this one," I said. "Maybe the barcode is squashed."

The barcode WAS squashed. I started trying to flatten out the label to make the barcode readable. Meanwhile, Ava found the small bag of dried fruit and scanned it. BEEP!

I was aware of the till saying: "Please place the item in the bagging area...", so I glanced at Ava and asked her to do what the till said. Which she did – but not before she had ripped open the bag of dried fruit and stuffed a handful in her mouth.

"Checking item's weight..." the till said. "Please wait for assistance."

"Argh!" I said, and waved at the surly assistant, who finished a conversation with her colleague before ambling over, glancing at the open packet of dried fruit, slapping her card against the screen, punching in a number and ambling off again, shrieking: "Till number 18's free!"

Ruby was trying to open a jar of olives.

"Don't open that Ru! Just scan it please."

"Aw!" Ruby stuck out her bottom lip. "But Ava's got fruit!"

"Unexpected item in bagging area..."

The sheer weight of the unjustness of Ava having fruit and her not having olives had made Ruby slump... on to the bagging area.

"Unexpected item in bagging area... Please remove item."

I removed Ruby from the bagging area, muttering at the overly polite woman who lives inside the till: "I'll put an unexpected item in your bagging area in a minute."

"Mummy!" Ava said suddenly. "You forgot to get CHEESE!"

"Do you want to continue...?"

The till was just messing with my head now.

I gazed at a bottle of wine which was nestling at the bottom of the basket and wondered whether, if I EVER got to scan it, the till would be saying: "Approval needed..."


"Checking item's weight..."

Do you love or loathe self checkouts in supermarkets?