Shopping’s not like it used to be

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Anita Robinson says, “There’s something sadly impersonal about a shopping trip accomplished without exchanging a word with another human soul, even if it’s only a bored checkout assistant”. I agree.

Growing up in the 1950s wasn’t good preparation for today’s brave new retail world. There were no supermarkets then and people were amazed when they were first suggested.

The grocer was an important figure in the local community. He presided, Ronnie Barker-like, in his white or tan shop coat behind a substantial counter. His wares were neatly arranged on the shelves behind him. I say “he” because it usually was “he”. He had a friendly word for each of his customers. There was no such thing as browsing so you had to know what you were looking for.

My mother, like many customers used to send a hand-written list along with a cash payment. Her weekly groceries were delivered within an hour or two by a lad on a bike with an enormous ‘basket’ or by a man in a van. I was often sent to the shop with the list and a pound note for payment. In the 1950s, a pound was enough to buy most of the week’s groceries for a family of five.

One day, when I arrived at the shop the money was missing and I had to return home to tell my mother I’d lost it. She took it relatively well, considering it was a significant loss but, sixty years later, I still remember my brothers angrily reinforcing how stupid I was.

Now, it seems the past has come around again. “You shop – we drop,” as the slogan for internet shopping says. At least when that happens a delivery person calls and some human contact is preserved.

For us children of the 50s, the self-service check-out machines are a step too far. Anita is right – it’s the tone of the “bossyboots” automated voice that’s hard to stick. The exasperated “DO YOU NEED MORE TIME?” and, the “DON’T FORGET TO TAKE YOUR GOODS AND YOUR RECEIPT” are most annoying. How does ‘she’ know the wee 1950s boy’s a stupid old eejit now?