True gripes: Unsolicited receipts

A decade ago, I could go into a shop, cafe or restaurant and, should I want one, end up having to ask for a receipt. Only to be greeted with a look that showed that to provide me with one would be too much trouble.

Oh, how things have changed. Now it seems that the simple task of spending money necessitates the purchase of a receipt. Okay, if I buy a new shirt and pay cash, rather than with a credit card, then I would like to have a receipt just in case I decide to take the shirt back for any reason, (I kid myself, I have never taken an article of clothing back to any shop). Or if I buy a week's shopping from the supermarket, and have included items for my flatmate, then the receipt will be accepted to enable me to sort out who owes what later on.

Yet when I buy a packet of cigarettes which I know are pounds 2.58, as they have been for some time, the inclusion of a receipt with my change gets my temperature up. I hand over a tenner and the assistant taps the info into the till, takes the change, then waits until the receipt is printed, tears it off and somehow manages to wedge it in between the fiver and the pounds 2.42 before placing it into my hand.

What do they expect me to do? It's a packet of cigs, for crying out loud! It's the brand I've smoked for years. Am I going to bring them back and exchange them for some crisps? Are they likely to be returned as an unwanted gift? Maybe I'm going to export them and claim the tax back.

Last week I'd arranged to meet a friend in a pub I've never been to before. I was early and bought myself a pint of bitter. Handed over a fiver, and guess what I got with my change? What is the point? Perhaps it is for proof of purchase: should I find the beer cloudy and wish to return it, the receipt will prove that I didn't buy it in a different pub. What next? Receipts for lottery tickets? Return them for a refund on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, we have pockets full of scraps of paper, written in illegible blue ink, which mingle with our loose change and make us think "I must have saved that for a reason" when we clear them out. Or we end up with streets littered with confetti.

Who knows, maybe William Harston could ask his readers to find a use for them, or a reason for them, saddest of all - a name for collectors of them?