A Lidl touch of glamour

The glamour has gone out of supermarkets.

—Prof. Jeremy Baker
ESCP Business School, Oct 2014

Prof. Baker pretty much hits the nail on the head, here: what modern supermarkets most certainly lack is glamour.

When I pulled up at Sainsbury's last week, would it really have been too much to ask for the foreign gentlemen in the car park who offered to wash my car to have worn something a bit more glamorous than damp-looking, brown overalls? Sequins, perhaps, or maybe even a top-hat. Furthermore, within the store itself, I can't help thinking they missed a golden opportunity recently when they installed new spotlights in the bananas section. Would a chandelier or two really have been all that out of place? And as for Deidre on the checkout: a very nice lady, I'm sure, but I reckon someone more of the calibre of Scarlett Johansson, say, or Cate Blanchett, might add a certain je ne sais quoi.

Carte Blanch

Sainsbury's new checkout lady?

Of course, where the supermarkets really missed a trick was at George Clooney's wedding last week. A civil ceremony in Venice is all well and good, but I'm sure, for the right financial incentive, the star of Ocean's Eleven would have been just as happy to lead his blushing bride down the Home Baking aisle at the Dewsbury branch of Lidl.

Tesco and Sainsbury's are in a bit of a mess at the moment. Put me in charge, and I'll soon add a touch of Hollywood sparkle.

Comparing the prices

Approaching the breakfast cereals in Tesco on Thursday, I saw a smartly dressed elderly gentleman standing by the Bran Flakes apparently in some sort of crisis. So I turned about and went to buy some Yorkshire Tea instead.

When I returned, the elderly gentleman was still there, gazing into the Bran Flakes. So I sneaked round the side of him and removed a packet from the shelf.

"DON'T BUY THOSE!" he exclaimed, triumphantly. I froze. "Look! You can buy two 500g packets for the same price as a 750g packet!"

In the background, I saw an elderly lady with a shopping trolley shake her head in exasperation and walk away. I presumed she must be his wife.

I pushed the 750g packet of Bran Flakes back on to the shelf and picked up two 500g packets instead. "Thank you," I said.

"People don't look, you see," said the elderly man. "You need to check these things out. Compare the prices!"

I didn't point out that I usually do check these things out, and that I usually do compare the prices, but, on this particular occasion, a well-dressed elderly gentleman happened to be standing in front of them.

"You're not thinking of buying vinegar, by any chance, are you?" the elderly gentleman asked. I confirmed that I indeed wasn't. "Only you can get two half-size bottles for less than the price of a full-size bottle. It's crazy!"

"Crazy," I agreed.

"I wrote them a letter."

"…And, when you've finished, you end up with two bottles instead of one!" I observed, entering into the spirit of things.

"Yes!" said the elderly gentleman. "Not that that's much good these days. You can't take them back any more. They used to give you money back for your old pop bottles, you know. But you'll be too young to remember that."

I informed the elderly gentleman that, au contraire, I did indeed remember taking pop bottles back.

"We used to get a ha'penny each for them!" he said.

"I think we used to get 10p," I replied.

"Ten pee!" exclaimed the elderly gentleman in astonishment, apparently having worked out how I managed to have the wherewithall to be able to fritter away good money on 750g packets on Bran Flakes.

I thanked the elderly gentleman for his help, bade him farewell, and, as I headed towards the frozen fish, thought to myself, That's me in twenty years, that is.

Or ten, more likely.

No good deed ever goes unpunished

Approaching the checkout at Tesco on Thursday, I couldn't believe my luck when I spotted Laphroaig whisky on offer. I slipped a bottle into my trolley.

I couldn't believe my luck even further when I found the checkout totally empty. I began transferring my shopping on to the conveyor belt, asking the girl on the till not to start loading my stuff into plastic bags, as I had my own reusable ones. It flustered her a bit. Then another girl came and set next to her and asked her if it was her first day—which it was.

To be honest, I felt a bit bad about getting the poor girl flustered on her first day. So, as I was collecting my receipt, I made a point of saying, "I think you're doing absolutely brilliantly, considering it's your first day". The girl was absolutely delighted.

Then I walked through the security scanners, and all hell broke loose.

The stupid tart had forgotten to take the security tag off my bottle of Laphroaig.


I read something in Granta magazine recently, which had never occurred to me before, and which raised my opinion of the Jewish religion. In a piece about her father, Francesca Segal wrote:

Proselytizing is strictly forbidden in Judaism, which explains why across the centuries in has remained tiny compared to other monotheistic religions.

Yes, hats off to the Jews, I thought. I have never had any of them knocking on my door trying to convert me, nor seen them shouting their heads off in the middle of the street telling me that I'm going to burn in the eternal fire. They keep themselves to themselves, and don't try to ram their religion down other people's throats. Good on them!

But, in her intersting piece, Segal also explained that there is at least one branch of Judaism which does a teensy bit of proselytising:

To an outsider, the Lubavitch are indistinguishable from any other brand of Orthodox Jew. They wear black hats and sidecurls, speak Yiddish and obey the 613 commandments handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. Men and women study separately, work separately and a man is forbidden even to shake the hand of a woman who is not his wife. In their belief that modesty is paramount, the men all dress the same, a sombre garb of black and white, and women, often well into their eighth, ninth or tenth pregnancies, cover their bodies almost completely in long skirts and long sleeves…

But [despite the ban on proselytizing] what is not forbidden, and what remains at the core of Lubavitch philosophy, is outreach to people precisely like myself—non-practising Jews for whom cultural and intellectual identification has become more important than religious practice. Other Orthodox groups have no interest in adding to their ranks and might even be hostile to a lapsed Jew wanting in, but the Lubavitch would like nothing more than to see me shed my jeans and don a long wool skirt in their place.

The branch of Tesco where I do my weekly shopping is situated in an area with a large population of Orthodox Jews. Their kosher section is to die for. Yesterday, as I pushed my trolley out of the store, I spotted a line of about 10 men and boys standing in the entranceway in full bib and tucker. It looked like a Blues Brothers convention. They were questioning people as they left. Looks as if they're on a membership drive, I thought.

One of the senior Jews hiding at the back spotted my beard and clearly thought I must have potential, so he pushed a poor lad of about 14 forward to do his dirty work. I felt quite sorry for him with his hat and sidecurls: he was clearly very embarrassed.

"Excuse me," he said. "Are you Jewish?"

"No, I'm not," I replied. "Are you?"