Trolley life

`There was this study carried out in a car park,' she said, `which showed that it took a driver 32 seconds longer to leave a parking space if someone was waiting for it. You were actually guarding that space. It's a territorial thing'

There is something about supermarkets and queues that drive people crazy. Perhaps it's the agonisingly slow delicatessen queue where each person orders two slices of this, a bit of that, a slice of something else and five salads. Everything has to be unwrapped, sliced or scooped, weighed, labelled and wrapped again. Do deli staff receive training in how to work in slow motion? Or perhaps it is that moment when you realise the person in the "cash only" line is paying by cheque - and getting away with it - or the way the "eight items only" queue is always populated by a woman who feigns nonchalance as she arranges her 15 items into eight odd piles.

Explosions or, more typically, implosions occur. This is a shame because queues are supposed to be a sign of civility. People waiting for a bus stand, read, chat and moan in a relaxed kind of way. They do not seethe inwardly. In fact, they seem to find comfort in the very act of lining up. I once came upon a queue of about 10 Brits on a dusty road in a remote bit of Greece. What were they doing? Their tour bus was due any minute, they explained, so they were queuing up for it. No one thought this odd at all.

None of this applies at the supermarket check-out. The other day, a man behind me actually bounced his trolley against my ankles. I glared, he stared past me and I turned back to my packing. He started to mutter. I sighed. It hadn't been the easiest of shops. The orange juice had leaked, the price of pitta couldn't be found and there was a bar-code catfood crisis. And now I had a man standing behind me who was acting as if I were personally delaying Middle East peace. Suddenly, as I frantically searched for the chequecard, I started to feel angry too. What was his problem? Why couldn't he just think about sex, fantasise about the lottery or whatever else it is that men think about in queues? Why make such a fuss?

My sister, who loves pop psychology, claims this whole mini-drama is more to do with territory than power. "There was this study carried out in a car park which showed that it took a driver 32 seconds longer to leave a parking space if someone was waiting for it. You were actually guarding that space. It's a territorial thing."

If this was the case, I was losing ground fast. The moment I signed the cheque, trolley man pushed forward. I stepped sideways to finish packing and he pushed again. By now he was standing in front of the check-out counter and he and the (male) cashier watched as I finished packing. Neither offered to help and I could see why: after all, that would have spoilt everything.

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