The God of Queues

It’s December 23rd 2008 and I’m back from a harrowing shop. I realise now I never knew before today what a harrowing shop was. Now I am older, wiser and beaten to a pulp. I’ve never seen so much harrow in one shop.

It was like pushing a milk-float through molasses in a high-street Patricks Day riot. Don’t stop or you’ll turn around to find the trolley bashed & overturned 3 aisles down under a mountain of knock-down, knocked-down tins of beans. Bend to pick up a sliced pan and chances are you have just avoided being slapped in the face by a flying duck as litle Johnny relieves the boredom of shopping by helping his mother in creative ways. Duck! If you insist on standing still for more than 10 seconds to source a decent sausage, take care to curl your toes and tighten your buttocks. It’s Christmas out there and the hordes (which, admittedly, I added to) mean to stock up for it. If that means cutting you off or cutting you up so be it. You’ll have deserved your just desserts if you get in the way of the business of festive good-kill.

“Security to the checkouts please,” seemed to be pre-recorded for the tannoy. They played it regularly.

After labouring through the moving maze of products and people it was a great relief to chill amongst the toothpastes. Nobody cares for dental care at this time of year it seems. I relaxed there a good five minutes, catching my breath and looking for dental floss. I never bought floss before, but since my recent visit to the dentist I can no longer fit a toothpick between a certain two teeth of mine. I know, I know -I don’t like using a toothpick either, but when half the chicken you just ate is waving out at everybody every time you bid a seasonal greeting, I think you’d be less inclined to judge me! You bastards!

Anyway, dental floss -I got some and I’m damned if I’ll be using it. It’s like pulling out a cheese wire cutter and waving it through your gaping maw. I’m self-conscious enough trying to discretely poke out a recalcitrant crumb with a post-repast cocktail stick, but I’ll never get used to feeling like I look like a special olympics medal winner while trying to use these flosses. Sorry, I know that is not something one is allowed to think these days. Good job nobody actually reads anything I write or I’d be in trouble. 🙂

Meanwhile, back in the aisles, the tide was turning. There was a change in the air. For one thing, the tannoy stopped crying for security staff to the checkouts. Instead security was called to the alcohol department. That’s progress for ya.

More importantly, I did find some rays of sunshine in the battlefield -namely people. I found many hearty comrades, anxious to seperate themselves (as I was) from the manic thrashings of others. One smiling, middle-aged lady reccomended a particular sherry trifle to me as I eyed the desserts. I’ve always been partial to a bit of sherry trifle I told her. I insisted on having it at my wedding even though some sniggered. Sherry trifle is not sophisticated enough it seems. I can never keep up with the sophisticates. I stopped trying, truth be told. I do find myself in partial agreement with them on this one, however -Sherry trifle is not getting off lightly here… The problem with sherry trifle nowadays is it no longer comes with sponge. There seems to have been a memo circulated amongst the sherry trifle makers of the world – “Hold the Sponge!” it said in big bold letters. Nobody forwarded it to me. In my day sherry trifle had sponge in. It added a certain… spongey quality to the whole trifle. It could be alcohol-soaked or crouton-crispy sponge, but it’s just not the same without it. Sherry trifles these days no longer compare. But I still like sherry trifles and I even like saying and typing sherry trifle. I like the sound of it. I like the look of it. It’s two words that sit happy together like lovebirds perched on a swing. Sherry Trifle. Aww. How can anyone say sherry trifle and not smile. 🙂


So, I packed in the reccomended trifle and later added a fresh-looking swiss roll to make up for the AWOL sponge. There’s no expense spared for
this Christmas dessert!

Just then a bomb went off in the aisle around the corner! I was convinced of it. It was like BANG! -only louder. Really. The sherry trifle lady was mid way through a warm trifling reflection when it happened. I let out a roar in a vain attempt to drown out the noise. “WHAT! …WAS that!?” I cried, trying to see around the corner behind her. She caught my arm in a soothing embrace and smiled, explaining it was the 4 x 4 pallet behind me. Some worker had just deliberately and mindlessly dropped it flat on the floor less than two feet from where I stood. It’s strange how such a loud & nearby noise seemed to me to have come from the opposite direction, but there you go. What surprised me most in this little episode though (as I thought of it a little while later) was how the lady had taken my arm. It made me realise how rarely we physically touch others around us unless we mean to do them harm. Just think of touching a strangers arm or shoulder or cheek or hair to immediately grasp what I mean. It’s just not done. She must have had her momentary reflexive doubts herself even as she reached out to me. She didn’t otherwise seem the type who regularly does such a thing. But I found it somehow gratifying and pleasant to be considered a touchable stranger in this way. It could be the proximity of sherry trifle, but I feel this is another awww moment. Awww. 🙂

Further on, I was nearly done (well done) when I realised I had actually gotten nothing for the dinner today or tomorrow. I risked leaving the trolley near the kitchen rolls. Non-food shelves seemed to be spared the worst of it. But when I reached the chicken people and trolleys were three-deep. I could barely spot a breast amongst the elbows. “I’ll get some minced pork instead” I thought. Think again daddy-o! It seems pork hasn’t recovered sufficiently in this country for manufacturers to risk putting mince on shelves. Pork chops taste like chewy cardboard (yes I do know what that tastes like, smartypants!) Nobody here eats much beef. Lamb schlamb. So I waded back to my trolley empty-handed. I had had enough.

You would think they were selling chicken at those cash registers, the queues were so long. I even struck up a few more friendships as I stood there -buddies in a foxhole an’ all that.

The first was the lady behind me. We began by congratulating each other for making it this far. Then we both pointed our trolleys sideways so as not take up so much room (not as a civic gesture you understand, but so we wouldn’t get trampled or squashed by mad passers-by -and when I say mad I am not using euphemistic language). Now she noticed -and shared with me- how the queue next to us had some distinct advantages. There were three people in that queue. The first was already unpacking onto the conveyor belt and almost done. The second had a large load, but, as my friend pointed out, half the trolley was taken up by bulk-items like toilet rolls, fizzy two-litres and cereal boxes. The third was pushing a half-full mini-trolley.

Our queue now had just two people in front of me, but the person currently off-loading had already filled the entire conveyor belt and was waiting for the assistant to whisk things through quicker so she could continue. Her trolley was somehow still more than half full. I have no idea how she managed that.

So I agreed with my new friend that the other queue looked a better bet and advised her to go for it. Past experience had conferred upon me a stoic wisdom of sorts. Never be tempted by the quicker queue. “It just never, ever works for me,” I told her as she furtively took the three steps into that other realm. It was obvious to us both that she would win. Staying put neither is any way to defeat the god of queues, however.

Here is the secret of how to deal with queues… You must stay put and resign yourself to losing. You must laugh at your own powerlessness in predicting the right action. In some cases, affable acceptance is the only way to win in the end. “I’ll race ya!” I joked. My friend laughed, but behind her eyes I could tell she had grown cocky. The god of queues knew this too! Which of us would he punish?

Some minutes later, the woman at the top of our queue was still offloading, but my friend’s queue had already dealt with and despatched its own merry top shopper. Were we being toyed-with by a higher being?

A somewhat-older gent now signed on. He told me turkeys were very expensive this year. “It’s all they eat you see,” he informed me. “A good turkey eats as much every day as a prize bull! 75 euros I paid for my turkey. 26 lbs in weight.”

“That’s not a turkey you got,” I told him, “that’s an ostrich. No wonder it cost so much, they had to ship it in from Australia.”

He smiled but didn’t laugh. “No,” he insisted. “It’s a turkey alright -three euro per pound. Not bad when you think of it that way.” He had a point. It wasn’t a funny one though. I smiled and nodded but didn’t laugh.

At last the doomsday shopper at the top of the queue made it past the conveyer belt and we moved up a peg. Her bunker would be well stocked until the day after Christmas at least. My female friend from the other queue smiled wistfully and conceded defeat. We both knew now I was on the home stretch. Her own tiller seemed to have disappeared. Obliterated by the god of queues I had no doubt.

The rest of the time was uneventful. I won’t bore you with further details. I’m getting bored myself anyway truth be told, so I’ll just add that it was an awful time, but still it was kind of reassuring to know -and be reminded that- there are people out there who are not so caught up in their own selfish, fishbowl existence. Merry Christmas!

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