Photography: Trolley Life

One of my friends has given up supermarkets. "I find them totally alienating places," she says. "But I don't really know how I'm going to survive." Six days in and she's still clinging to life without Safeway but this will be a critical week. My less ambitious resolution to give up supermarkets for the Christmas/New Year period collapsed on Christmas Eve when it was pointed out that there was no food in the house. I mumbled something about Tiny Tim but evidently he is no longer a role model for today's young people. New Labour, New Dickens.

On the way I dropped in on Mr W. He used to be the butcher in my village but moved elsewhere seven years ago. I only visit now three times a year (Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) but he always greets me by name and asks after my children. He is young and loves double entrendres to the point where I always feel as if I have walked into a Carry On film. As I waited this time I noted the clock that kept time by showing a bull repeatedly inseminating a cow. Who needs sex education when there are butcher shops? A small boy carried my bag of meat to my car and gave me his best wishes.

I needed them at the supermarket because the car park was a scrum and the store appeared to be populated by aliens. No one smiled. When I asked why there were huge bins of cucumbers but no celery I was told that there was no celery. Anywhere. "Can this be true?" I asked and the boy glowered. They had also run out bread except for rows of white "economy" bread. No bread? I asked. More glowering. The boy behind the fish counter acted as if he'd never seen me before. Suddenly I realised there was something really quite strange about the assumption that we want to know the names of supermarket employees - why else would they wear badges? - but that none of them can be bothered to find out our names. It seemed to me that the meat counter was a light year away from the goodwill and bad jokes of Mr W's shop.

I looked at the cucumber and white "economy" loaf in my trolley and knew I had to get out - fast. The Japanese have something called "roboshops" which are 24-hour supermarkets that are so automated that staff are superfluous. The editor of The Grocer believes these will be an inspiration to British supermarkets and I think he just might be right. Why have any people at all? I think I shall visit Mr W more often.

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