I felt rather like the man from the Bateman cartoon whilst up at the Co-op/Somerfield supermarket in Nairn to get a few last-minute items before Christmas tomorrow - a newspaper (the 'Telegraph') and a few things like salads. But what I said at the check-out there today, and what I'm about to say, needed to be said. I think I've actually written here about it a few years back when it was still a Safeway store. What that was didn't, initially at least, garner me too much popularity, but I think a few people in the queue behind me, and possibly the check-out girl too (although she was far too dicreet to voice an opinion), realised what was 'bugging' me and that I wasn't just another madman.
So what is bothering Nairn's old blogger-'curmudgeon' today? Basically it's charity-collectors at the check-outs. I am a charitable soul (no really!) and I almost always put a Pound or two into the collecting 'buckets' they use. However, one thing I cannot abide is these charity-collectors packing my shopping for me, any more than I like check-out assistants doing it for me, as they occasionally offer to do, as it is usually just chucked into bags any old how and fragile goods (salads and the like) can find themselves crushed below much heavier items. Yesterday when I was also up at the Co-op/Somerfield here the charity-collector lady immediately stood back when I indicated I was going to pack my own purchases in the shopping bags I had brought for the purpose - I still left a couple of Pounds in her bucket and all was pleasantness and light. Today was a different story, however! Today there were TWO collectors at my check-out, both teenagers (I should say 16 or 17, by the looks of them). The fact that I was carrying my own shopping bags, however, didn't deter them from grabbing some of my purchases and shoving them any old how into some Somerfield shopping bags! I had to tell them quite forcefully that I wanted to pack my own shopping, using the VERY brightly coloured canvas shopping bags I was carrying, which they could not possibly NOT have seen. The two young ladies, to do them credit, stood back and let me get on with it, but the whole bagging area was completely full of all their stiff - TWO collecting buckets and several plastic bags which they had opened and spread around the whole surface, almost, to make their jobs easier and my job as the actual customer a whole lot more difficult, with all their paraphernalia getting in my way.
I suggested, very gently, to the check-out operator (a young lady) that she tell her manager that I was not happy with feeling intimidated by the presence of two charity collectors hogging all the space and basically making a nuisance of themselves. The the older charity-collector lady at the next counter piped up, saying I should't speak 'like that' to the two youngsters at my counter - I had not once raised my voice, but I had moved the opened plastic bags out of my way and the collecting bucket nearest me I had moved onto a small shelf at the front of the bagging area, also out of my way, so I could get on with packing up my purchases. I replied to the older collector lady at the next counter that I was a customer and she, the infernal impertincence of the woman(!!) then said she was 'a member of the public'. I repeated to her that I would say what I wanted and that she wasn't going to embarrass me into silence. I then asked the check-out operator again very politely and quietly to let her manager know how unhapppy a customer (a paying customer!) had been with feeling crushed and crowded-out by charity collectors in their shop. I then said to the two young collector ladies at my check-out that I was happy to give a odnation, I just did not appreciate beinbg crowded by them - I then put a Pound coin into one of their buckets and left.
To the Co-op/Somerfield managers: I genuinely have no objection to having charity collectors around, they are usually collecting in good causes. However, you must set them ground rules not to make your customers feel intimidated and crowded by their activities. If you will not do this then I will be shopping elswehere - even if it means increasing the number of my shopping trips to Forres, Inverness or Elgin, where there are many alternatives. Once Sainsbury's opens in Nairn (which they now have Scottish Executive/Government approval to do), expect one less customer at your store on a permanent basis if you do not keep control of charity collectors in your shop. Meantime, if some of the charities are not willing to curb their natural enthusiasm when beng permitted by you to 'harrass' your customers for money, then you must keep them outside your premises - or this customer at least will be staying away. I can't force you to do this, but my small spend in your shop I can and will divert elswehere. You decide ...
Finally, absolutely none of this 'rant' is in any way directed at the check-out assitant who was only doing her job and keeping a discreet silence throughout, unlike the impertinent and quite aggressive lady collector at the next counter, who seemed to think she was running the premises, not the Co-op/Somerfield management, it appeared to me. She needs to be rmeinded by Co-op/Somerfield that their presence is granted by invitation, not by right, and that if they abuse the privilege they will be barred in future.
As I mentioned near the beginning of this article this is a problem I have encountered at this store previously, long before it became a Co-op/Somerfield outlet. It may just be a feature of the 'friendliness' for which some Nairnites seem to be renowned (amongst themselves at least, if to no-one else). I do hope that a proper supermarket, Sainsbury's, when it opens faily soon (I hope!) will keep better control of what happens in their store, just as Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, do. Incidentally, of all the supermarkets in this area, I find Asda always to be a very pleasant shopping experience - not particularly because I want to buy things there or that they are any bettter than elsewhere (or even significantly cheaper - but we have Lidl and Aldi now for that anyway, if that's important). No, the check-out people at Asda are invariably pleasant, chatty without being familiar, even when they are very busy. It is either down to the character of the average Elginite or perhaps more likely to the superior way Asda organises and motivates its staff, who from what I know are not better paid than any other supermarket staff, except from what I understand there is a genuine feeling of 'family' in that organisation, a pretty amazing feat in an organisation the size of Asda, never mind its much larger parent WalMart. I hope Sainsbury's will bring its own little piece of magic to the Nairn food retail scene in the not too distant future, to give residents and businesses here some much-needed variety and competition.
Just before writing this 'lovely' but oh-so-necessary article, I have been enjoying a roasted partridge with a glass of Amontillado, preceded by a plate of steamed fresh asparagus with a lovely piquant cream-sauce over it and I'm now listening to 'A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols' from King's College, Cambridge - a delightful way to spend Christmas-eve afternoon, whilst eating a few post-lunch dates and figs. My little shopping trip up to the town was otherwise very pleasant - a call at the health supplement store to order some mineral supplements they get for me, then to the supermarket, going via the front here and back through the park. It is bitterly cold here today, but I was well wrapped-up and it is nice to look out over the calm sea - not forgetting to watch where one is putting one's steps, because the ground is icy and treacherous at present, however well many of the payments and roads are salted and gritted.