‘This is the last straw. Never again,’ I thought, as I sat in the carpark of a Little Waitrose eating a chicken mayonnaise salad with my bare hands.
I always say this and I always come back for more. I tell myself I can handle it. If only I shop differently it won’t hurt. I’ll buy own brand. I’ll resist the three for twos. I’ll make it work. I have to. I love it. I can’t live without it. I have to find a way...
No, no. I must leave. I cannot go on like this. And I pull myself together. But after a few weeks’ shopping in some sensible alternative with its reliably good produce and predictable, dull prices, I am drawn back. I feel the lure of the gleaming white and green surfaces, the cool lights, the promise of upper middle class respectability ever hanging in the air...
‘Oh, I do love you!’ I think, as I wander the aisles putting tiny packets of the cheapest things I can find into my basket. And always, it betrays me again. ‘That’ll be £40, please,’ the checkout lady will say.
And I will curse the notorious £40 rule. No matter how few items are in your basket, it always comes to £40.
I know I could go to Sainsbury’s or Tesco and fill an entire trolley for £40. I even went to Lidl in Chessington once, but something about the place screamed anarchy. That sort of shelf-stacking may be their idea of fun in Germany, but it won’t do here.
And so I continue to venture into the green and white paradise. Feeling peckish the other day, I pulled into a filling station to buy a sandwich thinking, ‘It’s just a Little Waitrose. Just a little visit to a Little Waitrose can’t hurt.’
Inside, I was assailed by a cheery sign advertising a lunch deal: ‘Salad and water for £3!’
I picked chicken and pasta mayonnaise and a small bottle of own brand mineral water and took it to the counter. The girl added them up and announced, ‘£3.83’.
‘Yes, but it’s the meal deal.’
And she said, ‘I’m sorry, but that water isn’t in the meal deal. It’s only still water. That’s fizzy.’
I stared at her and she stared at me. The queue behind me made shuffling noises and I toyed with the idea of going back to get still water. And then something amazing happened.
Possibly, she had a rush of blood to the head. She had reached the end of her tether and was having her very own Jerry Maguire moment. She looked at me strangely and said, ‘I know. The water you’ve got was above the salads, right? And the still water was nowhere near them. We’ve told them. They won’t change it.’
Like Jerry Maguire, it took her a while to get going. But once she did, she was on fire. With the queue getting restive, she raised her voice majestically and declared, ‘You know what? I’m going to honour the meal deal!’
There was a gasp from the queue. ‘Yes! I’m doing it! I don’t care what they say. That will be £3, please!’
She was a woman reborn. If she had come out from behind the counter and shouted, ‘Who’s coming? Who’s coming with me?’ I would have replied: ‘I will! I will come!’
And she would have taken a packet of rhubarb and custard sweets and said, ‘These are coming with us!’ And we would have backed out of the door together, with her holding the bag of sweets in the air, Jerry Maguire and Dorothy, off to remake our lives by starting a business which would sell meal deals that were clearly marked with the salads on special offer right next to the waters on special offer and we would change the world!
But she didn’t, so I took my card back, said ‘thanks very much’ and carried my salad out to the car, with people tutting me as I went. Being hungry, I opened it straight away and discovered that there was no mini- fork inside.
I could have simply waited until I got home to eat it. But whether through hunger, or out of solidarity with the checkout girl, I decided to do something else.
I pushed my hand into the wodge of chicken and mayonnaise and began eating.
And as I did so, I looked through the window at the customers going into the store, staring at me, and I muttered at them, through mouthfuls, ‘That’s right. Take a good long look, people. Not the sort of thing you expect to see here, is it? This is what they don’t want you to see. Ugly, isn’t it? Well, the truth can be ugly, my friends. The truth can be very ugly indeed.’