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What's super about supermarkets?
What's super about supermarkets?

The top-prize for annoying till-routines goes jointly in my head to Boots and Smiths. Smiths at airports always seem to be running special offers, so that whatever you take to the counter, you’re advised that if you buy two you can get something else free, or that it’s cheaper to buy this and that together. And even when you’ve done as you’re told, you then get asked if you’d like some other thing they’re offering.

I once tried to buy a sandwich and a drink in Boots, when I had about 30 seconds to eat it as I ran to the next job. I put the stuff on the counter, and held the money out.
“If you buy a third item, you can get a Meal Deal.”
“No thanks, I’m in a hurry.”
“It’s up to you sir, but it actually works out cheaper to get the third item.”
Oh all right then, I think, if you insist. I rush to the back of the shop, pick something I will throw away as soon as I get outside, rush back to the counter.
“I’m afraid that item isn’t eligible for a Meal Deal’.

I go back, pick the right thing, return to the counter.
“Will that be all sir?
Yes, I say, waiting to thrust the money at her and run.
‘Have you got a Boots card?’
‘Would you like to apply for one today, sir?’
No thank you.
“I can give you a form, and you can take it away and fill it in and bring it back. Or you can apply online.
No thank you.
I finally get to the stage where she will take my money.
‘Here’s your receipt and your change, and this a voucher for No 7 skincare products. It’s valid until the 10th.’
I take the unnecessarily long and verbose receipt, the voucher, and my change, which is awkard to put away when you’re trying to hold your lunch (including a bar of something you didn’t want) with the other hand.

It’s not just Boots. M&S now give you the warning about the price of their bags. Sainsburys force you to go back and get two of things because there’s two for the price of one. And ask you how you are today, and if you have a Nectar card when all you want is to pay and go. Same thing at Tesco with their clubcards.

And quite literally every time I suffer this tedious routine (which is every time I go to a supermarket)  I smile as I hear Gillian Lynne’s voice from a conversation about the same subject:  ‘…and it all takes so long.’ she said.

There’s a wonderful irony about an octogenarian finding that the young aren’t moving fast enough. She’s also the most gracious and positive person I know, and this is almost the only time I’ve ever heard her say anything remotely resembling a gripe. It amused me that it was about something so mundane.  Nonetheless,  I’ve never been able to pinpoint why I found it so funny and memorable. Once I’d written the story down, the penny suddenly dropped . What’s wrong with all this checkout palaver is that it’s bad choreography, badly performed. And it’s not so much the content of the remark as who said it. When you are famous for choreographing  some of the biggest hit musicals in the world, saying that a routine  ‘all takes so long‘ is no longer just  a passing gripe, it’s a crushing, expert aesthetic judgement by someone who is supremely qualified to judge.  I love it.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist