I was in the supermarket in order to purchase, amongst other staples, some peanuts. A worthy aim if I say so myself as I quite like nuts, especially the delicious, but vaguely guilt-ridden, salted variety.
I was wandering, as one does, from aisle to aisle in no particular order other than a vague memory that the hand squeezed anchovies are to be found in close proximity to the macroscopic muesli, which, of course, turns out rarely to be the case.
Why, you might ask, do you eschew the product guide helpfully found at the end of every aisle, except, of course, the one in which your find yourself?
Well, from time to time, I have taken advantage of this publication, often in search of a product the memory of which slowly diminishes the closer one gets to the laminated sheet. After a trek reminiscent of King Solomon’s Mines to find the aforesaid guide (I’m Stewart Granger of course or possibly Deborah Kerr, I get confused), it always reveals to me that sauce can be found in aisle 3.
Now, I rarely need to buy sauce of any form but, having been presented with a target aisle, who am I to argue. There is a Dirk Gently-like need to follow along. Of course, finding aisle 3 is no mean feat in itself. You need to wheel a supermarket trolley (a contradiction in terms that can drive even the most equanimous shopper to mutter dark exhortations about unspeakable acts such as putting a pack of biscuits back on the wrong shelf – take that supermarket designers) while craning your neck to read the aisle signs carefully located so they can only be seen once you are actually in the aisle. This does rather leave behind a trail of frightened children, overturned elders and scattered staff.
And don’t tell me about the apps that offer to reveal to you the location of even the most elusive item, usually long life milk for some unknown reason. The supermarkets I frequent are all built in basement bunkers that could be used to detect neutrinos if there weren’t so many bananas littered around. The chance of an internet connection is so remote that marauding legions of the Facebook deprived have become quite a pest in the dairy section.
Nevertheless, unless distracted by the person who believes that shouting loudly over the public address system about vegetables will cause people to wake from the stupor that descends on all in a supermarket on a Wednesday afternoon (and, in supermarkets, any time is a Wednesday afternoon, just with bigger queues), I did finally arrive in aisle 3.
I was then faced with the need to locate the sought after sauce in shelving that continues so far into the distance that it reaches the vanishing point.
I have noticed that there are two competing techniques used by shoppers to find their elusive liquid condiment or, indeed, any product. The first is to cruise at a good speed up the aisle looking frantically to the left and right and inevitably, on reaching the end without success, to loop around the next aisle in the vain hope that other shoppers won’t see the shame of failure. And let there be no doubt, supermarket shoppers can be a judgemental bunch, always happy to divert attention away from their own trolley full of things that no sensible person would ever consume and they had no intention of buying.
The other technique, and the one I favour, is to stop at strategic points along said aisle and stare meaningfully at the shelves. This often involves some shunting back and forth as a stream of similarly confused shoppers attempt to pass in aisles carefully constructed to be one and a half trolleys wide. Staring at the shelves rarely reveals the location of the elusive sauce but it does, at least, allow for the passage of time to ease the strange urge to purchase it. Of course, you are then left staring at shelves with no remaining purpose but, at least, your trolley is thankfully sauce free.
Waking from this stupor often allows you to stride off with renewed purpose or, more accurately, to wobble away. Of course, you still have no idea what it is you are looking for or where to find it but, by jove, you are doing it with determination and verve.
Which leads me neatly, if somewhat circuitously, to the central aim of my quest. I had, quite accidentally, arrived at the shelf full of every type of deliciously salty nut or other treat made from flour or seaweed or whatever it is that they use to make Bhuja mix other than an unnecessary amount of chilli powder. In a moment of distraction caused by the passage of someone who looked like they knew what they were shopping for but really didn’t, I reached for a pack of peanuts. Good old Nobby’s nuts sealed in foil for my future enjoyment.