Sunday, 23 December 2012

Retail armageddon

In the 1968 film Coogan's Bluff, Clint Eastwood played a young deputy sheriff sent to New York from the wilds of Arizona. There's a scene where he's in a New York taxi cab. As he goes to pay the driver, he asks: "How many stores named Bloomingdales are there in this town?"

"One," says the driver.

"We passed it twice."

I was reminded of this exchange earlier today when Katie and I were shopping in The Largest Tesco in the Western Hemisphere, given that we'd passed the olive oil section for a second time and appeared to be going nowhere.

I'm here to tell you - as if you needed to be told - that doing a food shop two days before Christmas is right up there with 'putting your head in a lion's mouth' on the list of stupid things to do.

There is a list. I've checked it. Twice.

We knew that this was going to be a bad idea, but had no choice. So this morning found us in a car park the size of Hampshire, fixing the shopping trolleys with a thousand-yard-stare. And so it began.

Due to the unique way our Sunday trading laws are framed, we weren't allowed to buy anything until 11.00am. However, the good people of Tesco were more than happy to let us, and several thousand others, into their store an hour early for browsing purposes. As long as no money changed hands for that first 60 minutes, no-one would be breaking the law and God would be happy.

So far, so good. But the rising panic was palpable. People were contemplating the festive season. People were thinking about what drink to get in for Auntie Doris. People were fretting at the thought of the shops being closed for two days. There was a wall of humanity, armed with debit cards. It wasn't pretty.

I was on trolley duty. Katie had made a list. Unfortunately, this was a list written with a completely different supermarket layout in mind, so her carefully-planned order was knocked for six. At one point we were randomly throwing things into the trolley, completely swept away in the moment.

"Take the trolley into the next aisle," she said, "and wait for me. It'll be quieter there."

The next aisle happened to be the one with the fresh turkeys. Let me remind you, dear reader. It was two days to Christmas. I was an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was like a tank battle, but less pleasant.

Katie came around the corner, packets of random carbohydrate in hand, and surveyed the scene. "Oh for God's sake. Move into the next aisle then."

I meekly wheeled into World Foods and regarded the fenugreek leaves. It seemed to be the only thing to do.

She caught up with me and deposited the ingredients of a tiramisu. "Right then," she fixed her jaw grimly. "Booze."

The beer and wine section at Yardley Tesco is renowned. It is spoken about in hushed terms by drinking men and women the world over. It would put George Orwell off his breakfast. If he were still alive. And, for that matter, sitting down for breakfast. Visiting it on Christmas Eve Eve is akin to juggling with live dynamite. We fought our way through the masses of wine-seekers and beer-hunters. The chap with the trolley in front of us had two bottles of Baileys, one Jagermeister and one Midori. That's what they make cocktails from in Hades, I reckon.

This wasn't a shopping expedition, it was survival.We eventually emerged, blinking into the daylight like Chilean miners. "Never again," we mouthed in unison as we joined the end of a queue. A queue to leave.

Next year I'm doing this online, even if I have to book a delivery slot in October. It's the only way.

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