Shopping is a tactical exercise. I realise this every year when I go on a beach holiday and find myself standing in a queue of thousands – stretching out the door of a KwikSpar.
I grimly amuse myself with anthropological observations and the irony of naming a store “Kwik” in this context.
Social norms dictate that people join the queue at the back and progressively make their way to nirvana – or in this case the place where you bitterly hand over large amounts of cash for increasingly diminishing returns. Blame the economy.
My chosen strategy after much trial and several errors is to do all grocery shopping in a tag team of two. One gathers the goods in a basket, weaving between aggressive trolleys pushed by angry people who would rather be fishing than playing dodgem in the aisles of Woolies. And the other takes it for the team and shuffles mindlessly towards the checkout counter with the trolley, too stunned by the pointlessness of it all to even troll Instagram.
Others adopt the early-bird strategy. No holiday lie-ins for these folks. They set the alarm in the dark, wake and drive to the store before anyone else.
This can backfire because other larks often had the same idea. And you are back to square one, except that in this instance you queue twice – because you have to get that coffee!
Then there are the martyrs who just do the whole thing by themselves. They are probably just getting away from their families. Downtime with the mozzarella in aisle five and the marinated chops in the freezers is infinitely preferable to bonding time with your in-laws.
“Oh you wouldn’t believe the queues!” they say when they finally return at sunset from the morning’s expedition. “And I had to go to three stores for the coriander.”
So in this festering petri dish of humanity, all rubbing up against each other and running over each other’s flip-flops, this woman – pretending to be inordinately fascinated by the magazine rack and using this as an opportunity to sneak into the middle of the queue I have been standing in for more than half an hour – became a real object of fascination for me.
If you need to cheat in the holiday queue, you must be a very sad case indeed
How, I wondered, do you justify this blatant cheating of the system while all the other patsies start from the very beginning? The man in front of me, who she had chosen as her break-and-entry point, started getting antsy.
He bristled with anxiety. Was this a sociopath in our midst? Was she going to whip out a semi-automatic and mow us down, or just get on with her unethical shopping strategy?
Genuine questions, I think. He started second-guessing himself – perhaps she was with the man with the beer belly, who had recently been our intimate companion in this special circle of hell.
Suddenly a child with a trolley manifested and pulled in behind her. This was too much for the chap in front of me. He had to do something. He told the kid the queue began back there. “Yes, out the door – precisely!” he said.
The kid ignored him, pointed to his mother and said: “I am with her.” From a tactical point of view, I was impressed. You don’t want to be the arsehole shouting at a kid so she had really worked this out brilliantly.
And by her nonchalance, I presumed she had this routine down pat. The man in the queue turned to me in exasperation. “Can you believe this?” he said mournfully.
“I can, I can, but if you need to cheat in the holiday queue,” I said to him very loudly – I can project when I want to – and went on: “You must be a very sad case indeed.”
We shuffled on our moral high ground, my fellow traveller and I. She avoided eye contact. And when the beer belly got to the tills, the man in front of me hissed: “Do you see – she is definitely not with him.”
I had grown a halo by this stage. And I glided past her about three centimetres off the ground. Proud that I had managed to avoid strangling her with her kaftan, or even just “tsk-tsking” as I rolled on by. Just living my best holiday life. Totally zen about the queue invasion.