|In the dragon's den|
Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose. Modern temples where a chairman's cunning divine inspiration magics the whole garden section into an oasis-themed party that makes customers forget about their own rain-soaked clothes. Where grown-ups shed their inhibitions momentarily and race their shopping trolleys down the aisles with their children inside releasing their inner Lewis Hamilton (or maybe that's just me). Where, à propos de racing and trolleys, lanes in the annual buidl-up to Christmas resemble the M25 during a bank holiday weekend. Including road rage, or shall we say, trolley rage.
The first time I set foot in a supermarket in Britain, I thought I was back at the airport. Can you imagine? Arriving in London after a 10-hour flight, waiting for seven hours in immigration to be waved through, finally hitting my then girlfriend and now wife's bed late that night, waking up the next morning totally jet-lagged and being driven to a supermarket after breakfast. I remember asking my partner: am I back in Gatwick?
Supermarkets are the places where you will find fruit that is so abnormal, or subnormal, or supernormal (take your pick), that it doesn't go off after seven days. I've been known for letting pears ripen for a whole fortnight and yet, after all that time, I still can't sink my teeth into them, so hard they are.
Like everything in life there are pluses and minuses when it comes to supermarkets and their ubiquity. As an example of the former we have the concentration of many varied products under one roof, which saves time and (sometimes) money, especially to people who lead busy lives. I'm sure that there will be a time when a a person will enter a supermarket as a virgin and will leave it with a spouse, a mortgage and a... job? Nah, not even Tesco can manage that these days. But you get the gist: just like New Yorkers are proud to say that what you can't find in the Big Apple doesn't exist, supermarkets might be able to boast a similar argument.
The big minus is, of course, the side effects of this expansion. One of them usually manifests itself in the wiping out of smaller, independent shops, some of which have been run by members of the same family for decades. In this instance, supermarkets act like arrogant Goliaths, steamrollering over planning regulations and (most of the time) having their way when it comes to pitching up their tent (which you can purchase in the heavily discounted camping gear section) in towns and villages around the country. Against this modern Philistine giant, the valiant, family-friendly local, independent-shop-owner David has practically no chance, no matter how good his sling is. A sling that will very likely end up in the toys aisle, or near the till, alongside the items that are meant to catch your eye as you get ready to pay, thus, making you part with more of your dosh.
Let's talk about supermarkets, monopolistic and monopsonistic beasts that they are. But whilst we debate if their empire signifies progress or backwardness, I hope you don't mind if I finish this tub of Ben & Jerry's Core Dough-ble Whammy. Only half price at Sainsbury's, you know.
Next Post: “Dawn (a short story)”, to be published on Sunday 17th June at 10am (GMT)