Homage to Catatonia

Cruising past the various checkout queues, I check them all out, looking for the shortest. I find it, shortest by a mile. Shortest, of course, need not equate with quickest. 

The sole lady ahead of me at this checkout has loaded her shopping onto the conveyor belt. Compared with the Friday mountains elsewhere in this supermarket this customer’s heap is a molehill. Shouldn’t take long. 

But it does take long. 
Later I understand sometimes the road less travelled is the road most avoided. Regular shoppers recognise this checkout person, a study in slow movement, and they join longer, quicker queues elsewhere.
Why is our checker-out so slow? She takes a cabbage in a paw, hoists it, regards it interrogatively, then caresses it into a bag part-laden with unkindred purchases. Next she takes a persimmon, ripe to bursting, holds it thoughtfully above the bag then drops it. Gravity speeds its fall.

Celery follows, then shoe polish, then a roll of foil, then eggs. Each item is chosen by a hovering hand, raised slowly to eye level, pondered then loaded at hazard.
I wonder about the checker. Why is she so slow? I wonder how she holds her job? I wonder are the items chosen by this particular customer are exotic, new to the market perhaps, or unscannable?
After some time, with my tub of ice cream racing into liquefaction, it is my turn. I greet my checker by tagged name: ‘Hello Lucy.’ Lucy turns head away, bends face forward fifteen degrees, and makes a sound. The sound is audible, too short for a word, it strains for syllable length. But it is conversation, all the conversation we will share today.
In the space of the next twenty minutes as my dozen items are selected, elevated, perused and lowered into my bag a number of further questions occur to me: ‘Why am I so short of patience?’ ‘What makes my minutes so precious?’

And – in place of my earlier questions – a dawning answer:’Perhaps it is precisely because Lucy is slow she won this job.’ And, ‘here is an employer who sees the value of a job to a person; who sees beyond the minutes of work to the life.’

9 thoughts on “Homage to Catatonia

  1. You are so good at looking at things from the other side. Easy to experience only impatience but I appreciate the reminders to pause and consider the likely back story. At my time in like I can slow down and move away from the rush of business but it is hard to break the habit. I think I need a picture of the torpoise on my fridge.


      • On my soap box – I made a typo because I did not take enough care, but there are some for whom spelling is a real issue. A few years ago at a trivia night, a friend wrote out the answers which were passed to next table for correcting. Friend had always had real issues with spelling and it had taken years for her to have the confidence to write anything that others looked at. The woman at the next table marked all my friend’s spelling mistakes and publicly drew attention to them. She had no idea the impact her remarks had on my friend’s confidence.

        I do not expect you to approve this comment but felt I had to make it.


        • Fair enough, gallivanter

          My intent was word play not correction

          I too am a proud and attentive speller and often, to my amusement and self mockery leave typos undetected until after transmission

          Nevertheless your point is taken: my play causes another’s hurt

          Unforgivable in a public medium



          Sent from my iPhone



  2. That’s a very charitable interpretation Howard. My instinct tells me it may be overly so. There is a huge prize out there for a supermarket that gets customer service right. Our local Waitrose in Chandlers Ford is chronically understaffed but remains popular because it sells better quality food. I refuse to scan my own purchases and often the ‘fast track’ cashiers are idle whilst the others face long queues. The system is bonkers but someone clearly thinks it’s good. I abhor shopping.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andrew, does your Waitrose not have the Waitrose-only own-zapper system? I don’t mean the self-scanning tills, I mean the one where you pick up a zapper at the entrance and scan each item as you put it into your bags, pay immediately at the (almost always) available zapper exit till and walk out (no packing/unpacking). This has saved us years of time over the last fifteen years. Believe me, it it worth every minute of the short learning curve.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It does Hilary. We tried this at Sainsbury but found quite a few items don’t scan – steak for example is ‘security’ packed or something. In the end we went back to queuing as usual. Perhaps we should try Waitrose and see if it is better.


        • Sainsbury’s didn’t have a zapper-scan last time I looked, so it’s a newish introduction for them. Occasionally the Waitrose zapper won’t scan, you can swap the item, or ask the special zapper assistant (instant service) when you pay. The only hitch since they updated the checkout machines is that both alcohol and medicines will demand a verification, but there is someone right there to deal. Believe me, the time and hassle saved is worth it.


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