Smile!

It can’t have escaped the attention of any of my friends residing in England that on Monday we finally caught up with the rest of the UK.

Sadly, not in terms of hating the Tories, though hopefully that will come soon.

No. As of Monday, if you went into a supermarket you would be charged 5p for every plastic bag that you used.

I was blissfully unaware this law had come in until I went to pay for my lunch at the self-service tills in the mini-Morrisons (soon to be rebranded “My Local” following some corporate buy-out or another) and was asked by the unusually complicit machine to tell it how many plastic bags I had used.

On the way home that night, I called into my local Asda, and it was fucking carnage. Massive queues everywhere, and people kicking off about being charged for what had previously been a free commodity.

I’m kind of with them, in one respect: if you didn’t know about it – and it wasn’t exactly heavily advertised – then it would have come as a surprise.

However, in the other respect, it’s only 5p – which goes to charidee by the way folks – and surely anything to reduce the amount of shit we’re dumping into landfill has to be a good thing, right? So, y’know suck it up. Or just try to make a run for it with your shopping trolley, until the wheels lock up at the edge of the car park, or “the shopping trolley graveyard” as it’s more commonly known.

Much as I hate the idea of them, reducing jobs as they inevitably do, I must admit that I do quite like the self-service tills. This stems back to when I was unemployed a couple of years ago, and often had to pay for my groceries using nothing other than 2p and 1p coins, which is just plain embarrassing if you’re counting them out into an actual person’s hand as the queue behind you glares hatefully at you.

There’s a chap who works on the Asda self-service tills, the guy who comes over and types in his password when the machine is telling you whatever you just placed in the bagging area is the wrong weight, and he’s lovely. Always says hello, always calls me sir even though I tell him not to. I worked in retail for quite some time when I was younger, and encountered many an obnoxious wanker, so I always try to be pleasant and nice to the staff because I remember what its like when you get shouted at by some prick who thinks he’s been overcharged for his crate of Monster Energy Drink. A lot of people are incredibly rude to retail staff, and the way I look at it, if I can go in there and be nice to them for just one minute, then that’s one minute when they haven’t got to deal with someone horrible. Of course, this is a bit of a reciprocal deal, for if you are nice to them, they are nice back. You get great service then. Try it. Everyone leaves the scene happy.

(NB – this is the same strategy as I used to use with bouncers – sorry, security – on the door at clubs, when I was young enough (ahem!) to go to them. Be nice to them on the way in, and, provided they don’t then call your bluff and search you, they’ll remember you next time and be pleasant back. For they are stupid creatures, easily tricked.)

And yes, I have just equated going to the supermarket with Jeremy Corbyn’s “being nice is nice” philosophy. (Strong message here) It’s quite simple to apply, really.

Anyway, the Asda chap was working on Monday evening, racing around the self-service area with a rack of plastic bags over his arm like a wine waiter’s tea towel (that’s what it is, deal with it, poshos). Because of all the people kicking off at the poor sod, the queue just to get into the self-service area was long (also because at least half of the tills weren’t working), and after I finally made it in, scanned all my munchies and lubes…er…I mean just my munchies, nothing else, paid and bagged up (brought my own bags, thank you very much) I bumped into the Asda chap as I left.

“Hello sir!” he said, affecting a cheery tone.

“Hello. I don’t envy you today mate. First day of the bag charge, right?”

He gave me an “oh god thank you someone is aware of this and how torturous my shift has been” look.

“Mhmm” he replied through pursed lips.

“I don’t envy you” I said. “Try and make it through your shift without decking any of the idiots, won’t you?”

He smiled. “I’ll try, I can’t promise anything though.”

Anyway, today I had another 5p bag experience, this one much more sinister.

I went into Morrisons at lunch time as usual, to find three of the staff frantically trying to get  all of the recently delivered sandwiches, wraps etc into the fridge ready for the lunch time trade. Fair enough. Can’t buy them if they’re not out of the cardboard box and in the fridge. I selected mine from those they had unpacked – Chicken and Bacon, not my first choice, but them’s the breaks – collected some fruit (yeh, get me and my semi-healthy lunch) and a drink and made my way to the self service tills.

There are two of these in this store, right in front of the counter where the actual tills are. There was nobody on the “real” tills – they were all sorting the delivery – so customers had to use the self-service tills. That’s okay, I usually do anyway.

The left hand self service till is being used, the right hand one appears empty, so I approach, only to note a cluster of produce in the bagging area, a list of them on the screen, and…no bags. The bloke trying to pay for them is hunting high and low for a bag to use. In the end, he leans behind the counter and liberates a couple.

Now anyone who has ever worked in a shop, and I would have thought that most people who hadn’t, know that behind the counter is the preserve of staff only. Not this bloke though.

He is spotted by one of the staff, who calls from the refridgerated area “Excuse me! You are not allowed behind the counter” as she hurriedly makes her way over.

The bloke, clutching one bag, does not do as any decent person would and apologise, he decides to continue the argument.

“There’s no bags on the tills” he shouts

“Well just come and ask us for some and we’ll give them to you” is the assistant’s reply, as she makes it behind the counter.

She’s a nice lady, this assistant. I see her every day, she always says hello, tells me when they have my favourite sandwich in but they just haven’t unpacked it yet (I don’t wait for it), laughs at the ridiculously trainspotter-ish pac-a-mac I’m wearing one day when the rain has unexpectedly comes but in a nice “Oh that’s a nice coat!” kind of way (I agree, telling her it’s not the most fashionable item I’ve ever worn – that was a pair of dungarees circa 1990 (almost there folks!) – and she knows I’m having a little joke with her and poking fun at myself) – because we have spoken before and although we don’t know each other, she knows I can take a bit of a ribbing and will even make it easier for her by taking the piss out of myself to save her the effort.

I do this in quite a lot of shops. In one, every time I went in to buy a packet of cigarettes, the bloke behind the till would ask me if I wanted to buy a Lottery ticket.

“No thanks”, I said the first time, “buying these is enough of a gamble for me!”, waving the packet of fags at him.

This is great. They remember me every time I go in there now. But, annoyingly, since I (sort of, tried to) quit, they remember to such an extent that as soon as I walk in, there is a packet of my brand of cigarettes waiting for me on the counter. Which, when it happens in three or four different shops, makes it rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreally hard to quit smoking.

Anyway, this bloke starts shouting about how there should be someone behind the counter at all times and as there wasn’t, he thought it was ok to help himself.

And then this exchange happened, which made me see the situation in a whole different light:

Her: “You can’t just go behind the counter and help yourself. That’s not how it works”

Him: “Yeh? Well it is in my country”

Oh yes. Some context. he is a frankly massive grumpy as fuck white Caucasian male. She is a lovely, glorious, cheerful and friendly lady of colour, if I had to speculate I’d say maybe Eritrean or Somalian. But I don’t have to, so I won’t.

Thankfully, she misheard him.

“Well it is in this company” she said.

He left, further ranting as he went, about how awful the customer service was in there.

She just looked at him. “Well don’t come back then” she said.

After I had bought my lunch, I approached her, and told her that if he happened to write or call in to complain, she should let me know and I’d be happy to give a statement that she had done nothing wrong and that he was a racist arsehole.

Least I could do, innit? I mean, this lady has memorised my favourite sandwich. Props are due.

See? Being nice is nice.

It is that this point that I realise you may not have come here to listen to me waffle on about my relationships with local store-workers, and may want some tunes. So, something appropriate (well three things actually):

sting - spread a little happiness Sting – Spread a Little Happiness

the-supernaturals-smile-food The Supernaturals – Smile

lloyd-cole-and-the-commotions-my-bag-polydor Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – My Bag

PS – That last song would have cropped up later in my usual “Dubious Taste” series, but I would have had to talk about – and play you – the godawful “Dance Mix”, so consider yourself spared. Though I might post it anyway.

PPS – When writing this, I was desperately trying to remember who it was that did a comedy sketch about a guy getting very upset about being charged for plastic bags. I was about to throw myself prostate at your feet asking for help in identifying who the hell it was. And then, it sprang into my head, literally as I typed this. The ole synapses are still working (just about).

PPPS – although there is this slightly contradictory view.

PPPPS – I used to write about Wedding Present cover versions on a Wednesday night didn’t I? Sorry, will get the defibrillators onto the chest of those posts in time for next week.

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