Son no. 1 gets back from Uni this weekend and like many other households we prepare for a tsunami of washing and a surge in grocery bills. All this, plus disappearing beer and a distinct change in the family dynamic too, from stable routine to, well, chaos mostly. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son but it’s just that he’s a handful and always hungry.
So an early visit to Tesco’s seemed a good idea and it being a warm day I grabbed an old pair of cool cream-coloured linen jeans and a T shirt and struck out for the supermarket with a fistful of cashback vouchers.
Feeding a family of 5, a seven-and-a-half stone Labrador, a cat and assorted drop-ins and stop-overs needs a full-time quartermaster. Me however, I just sail down each aisle and grab things that look vaguely familiar or on BOGOF. Full trolley. To the till.
Now, unloading a full trolley when you’re on your own means either a) asking for a packer (read reluctant slouching teenager) or b) unloading trolley yourself (while cashier watches, amazed at your dietary habits or wine consumption) until you can balance not even a Goji berry on the belt then dashing the trolley through to re-load position in the vain hope that you haven’t forgotten anything or that your perfectly ripe avocados aren’t buried under a 12-pack of pedigree chum loaf.
What I hadn’t expected however was a belt malfunction. As I bent down to retrieve the elusive Neurophen from the bottom of the trolley the sensor that ensures the belt only progresses gingerly to the next item decided to fail. It failed as a supersize bag of Penne arrived at the redeye causing it to stall on the stationery surface beyond. It failed as six vertically placed bottles of Rioja followed up, driven by the now eager belt that knew no stop sign. It failed. Signal passed at Danger the railwaymen call it – SPAD.
The Riojas hit the Penne like soldiers fleeing an unseen enemy and, reaching the safety of a blast shelter, fall headlong into a sandbag. The bottles teetered and rolled, and with nowhere to go but over the edge dived off the beltway and hit the floor, one by exploding one. I heard the first one hit the floor but the belt, now free from at least some of its load and keen to please, seemed to accelerate, eyeless, causing the last two to come off like artillery.
The floor was now awash with crimson and sparkling glass. I could see the Cashier flailing behind the pasta and rolling fruits trying to stem the tide of groceries now pouring towards him like the cavalry on a winning side. A wide and flat pack of smoked salmon glanced at me with a smile before launching itself from the belt into the gathering pool of red wine below. I stood, by now motionless and aghast; arms wide, jaw slack watching the salmon slap the puddle like a bad diver sending a cascade of the red stuff right up to my linen-clad knees.
It was over. The cashier killed the belt with a turn of his master key and there was silence. As we assessed the damage the Cashier rained apologies upon me and the Floor Manager, who had heard the commotion, hailed the clean up team like a siren after an air-raid. Sweepers swept and machines sucked and promises of dry cleaning bills were exchanged.
In minutes calm was restored and I left with a newly found promise never to put the wine upright again. And perhaps to go to Waitrose next time. In a Mac.
Post Script: In fact Tesco reimbursed me fully for a new pair of trousers so good on them. The general policy is to retain the soiled/broken /damaged item and try to evaluate compensation but in view of a few delays they just went ahead and reimbursed. The cash stayed in my pocket long enough to buy a trolley of groceries. Seemed only fair.