Next Customer Please

Published by Darren Seeley on Wednesday 30 November 2011

I realise now it is a strange behaviour but I cannot unlearn it. 

I have tried, truly tried and in my battle I have approached a place which felt very much like the margin of irrationality.  A checkpoint beyond which a worryingly few number of footsteps would put me in the very heartlands of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I know that everyone does it, is obliged to in fact, but separating my shopping from others' on a supermarket checkout conveyor belt is imperative to my mental health. 

I will fidget nervously until one of the plastic dividers becomes available, and where there are many fellow shoppers with a small amount of items, the barriers are few and far between.  Such transience can tempt me to try stealing one from the adjacent checkout which may be, depending on the shop layout,  tantalisingly close to my errant hand; but this is often futile, as the same uncomfortable event is also happening to my comrades on this checkout. 

As others in front complete their transactions, time is running out for me as the checkout person begins to scan the shopping of the person directly in front of me.  I look around the shop hurriedly expecting to see a multitude of faces mirroring my panic, or perhaps at the very least a manager racing towards me holding aloft an emergency plastic divider.

When the manager doesn’t appear my only option is to hold back my shopping on the moving conveyor belt with one arm or tumble the leading items to a place further back in the line thus increasing the gap and demonstrating incontrovertible ownership.

What am I afraid of?  That someone will buy my shopping? 

Or perhaps, I am worried that I will lose a particular item that cannot be replaced?  What if it was the only one left on the shelf.  But then this would not happen because like others I'm sure,  I eye the last godforsaken item on the supermarket shelf with a deep suspicion.   They are usually over thumbed and at worst, have been injected with poison by madmen.   Like the biscuit aisle on pension day, they are best avoided.

No it seems to be a issue of possession,  and the oddity of whilst having chosen items to one's own personal specification from the supermarket shelves, they do not actually belong to you until the final payment has been made at the checkout.

However, we do assume ownership immediately and would no more give away a can of soup from our trolley than allow someone else to try on a shirt we were holding in John Lewis, even if there were another five in similar size left on the rail. 

As soon as we've decided we do not want the can of soup though, or the shirt, the discounted nearly stale bread, we will leave it in the first convenient place in the shop with the justification that it doesn't belong to us.    

I have seen socks discarded next to chilled ready meals and wondered what it was about convenience food which prompted the shopper to realise they didn't need socks after all.  

Perhaps a Creole dish had given them visions of wandering barefoot in the sand of a Caribbean desert island, a place where socks would be frankly, ridiculous.   If I close my eyes I can imagine myself walking barefoot around that paradise; but I would be looking for a microwave.