It’s Sunday afternoon. I am spectacularly hungover, and Asda is closing in 15 minutes. I am second from the front in a monstrous queue of irate shoppers, all being held up from dashing home to watch a final set of endless tennis by a blood-boilingly asinine exchange taking place between a lackadaisical middle-aged checkout operator and a confused eastern European lady in front of me.
“Why you ask why have I not brought bags? This is very rude!”
“I’m not being rude, I just have to ask. Have you brought your own bags?”
“I have these bags.”
“No, those bags were here. They’re new ones. Have you brought your own bags? I’m really not being rude, but I do have to ask. Have you brought your own bags?”
“I’ve got these bags.”
“Yes, but you’ve just picked those up. I have to ask if you’ve brought your own. I HAVE to. Have you?”
Putting shopping in new bags, visably confused by the concept of a supermarket that has bags out for you to fill your shopping with, but won’t actually let you do so without subjecting you to a violent interrogation first: “I have these bags.”
Checkout lady, sounding pretty patronising now: “Right, but you don’t understand. It isn’t rude. It’s just a question. We have to ask it. Did you bring any of your own bags with you?”
Still nonplussed and now totally frustrated, the woman continues to pack her shopping. At this point, it’s pretty bleeding obvious to everyone that she didn’t bring her own pissing bags. Even the checkout lady herself knows it. But she has to ask, because it has been written. So she continues.
“DID YOU BRING YOUR OWN… oh, okay, whatever.”
I wanted to pitch in and say you shouldn’t have to answer ridiculous questions posed by stupid old bags about filling new bags, but it wasn’t her fault, she had a script and it was more than her job was worth not to stick to it. And besides, I’d already had my fill of rising against ridiculous shopping bureaucracy for one day. Before hitting Asda I’d been buying holiday shorts in Debenhams. I’d, like a complete shopping novice, pitched up to the fitting rooms with a mere two pairs of shorts.
“You have to take a minimum of four items into the fitting rooms.”
“Um, okay, but I only want to try on these two things.”
“Minimum of four items, mate.”
Now, I’ve come across a ‘maximum of four items’ rule before, but minimum? What could possibly be the justification for that? I thought I’d try again. “I just need to try on these two pairs of shorts.”
“You need four items.”
I considered asking the obvious question: WHY? But I figured he probably wouldn’t know, as like the bag lady in Asda, these people are just told to say these things – just use their mouths to say some words, while having literally no idea why they’re saying them.
“So do I need to go back and find two more items to try on?”
“No, you can take these.”
So I entered the changing rooms, with two pairs of shorts I did want and a very fetching women’s shirt and a hippo-sized XXL white polo shirt that I didn’t.
To make the situation even more annoying, all of this came just days after I went to watch Bon Iver in Hyde Park. Brilliant concert, inane rules on the volume of water you’re allowed to take in.
“Can’t take in bottles larger than 750ml, mate.”
“I don’t know, it’s just policy. You can drink it now, though?”
“Erm, no thanks. I don’t want to knock back two litres of water now in front of all these people we’re now holding up from seeing the concert they’ve come to see. I just want to know why. Are the promoters scared we’ll all drink too much liquid, drown our lungs and die?”
Serious: “No, that’s not why. It’s just policy.”
It’s just policy: the magic words. There’s absolutely nothing you can say to that. No retort that could possibly make them change their pre-programmed little minds. We’re clearly doomed from here on in to spend the rest of our lives karate-chopping through reams of red tape and punching a few Vogons in the face just to achieve the simplest of tasks.
When I got home from Asda, the tennis was still on. Thrilling match, some people said. Hmmm… by the time it had reached the 30th game of the final set, I’d started to wish I was back in that queue in Asda.