Grumpy Oldie Man

There is just one si­t­u­a­tion the un­de­ni­ably su­pe­rior sex can’t han­dle

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Matthew Nor­man

At the prospect of typ­ing the four-word dec­la­ra­tion to come, a stream of pre­nau­sea saliva floods into the mouth. This is a state­ment that can­not be made by the owner of testes without invit­ing a sledge­ham­mer to them (though in my case, bor­row­ing from Basil Fawlty, you’d have to sew them back on first) from ev­ery liv­ing mem­ber of all gen­ders, tra­di­tional and less so.

In the con­text of what lies ahead, how­ever, stated it must be. I am a fem­i­nist. Ad­mit­tedly, my brand of nonex­ec­u­tive or as­so­ciate fem­i­nism verges on the un­con­ven­tional. The idea of fe­male equal­ity strikes me as an ab­sur­dity, if not an abom­i­na­tion. What I be­lieve in pas­sion­ately – what any­one on nod­ding terms with com­mon sense knows for the plain and sim­ple truth – is fe­male su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Af­ter al­most 55 years of ob­serv­ing the species, it is crys­tal clear that in ev­ery re­gard other than one, women are by a colos­sal mar­gin its bet­ter half.

And so, with the pre­emp­tive dis­claimer duly is­sued, to the ruleprov­ing ex­cep­tion which con­cerns the fi­nal stage of the su­per­mar­ket ex­pe­ri­ence.

The lead­ing source here is the philoso­pher Homer Simp­son. As a hus­band, fa­ther, friend and col­league, Simp­son el­e­gantly franks the the­ory of laugh­able mas­cu­line in­fe­ri­or­ity on his own. As a com­men­ta­tor on the check­out gen­der di­vide, he stands alone, how­ever, as he con­firmed on a Spring­field su­per­mar­ket out­ing by choos­ing to queue for a check­out be­hind 20 men rather than a lone woman.

To Sig­mund Freud, fa­mously, the most im­pen­e­tra­ble mys­tery of hu­man ex­is­tence was what women want. But Freud never shopped in the Bayswa­ter Waitrose in 2018. Had he done so, he’d have cracked it wide open. What women want is to un­der­stand that, at the end of the process when the bill is cal­cu­lated, they will be ex­pected to pay for what­ever they put in the trol­ley.

Apolo­gies if this comes across as brag­gado­cio but, at my best, I am a sigma, tau or up­silon male. Even on a typ­i­cal day, with omega van­ished from the rear-view mir­ror, flail­ing about for a fresh al­pha­bet, I un­der­stand that. But this is not, raid­ing the Fawlty oeu­vre again, a propo­si­tion from Wittgen­stein. That is why the card is to hand long be­fore the last item is scanned. The nanosec­ond the check­out per­son re­veals the amount, into the ma­chine it goes. It’s not hard. If it was, it would be beyond me.

And yet to 93.4 per cent of fe­male su­per­mar­ket shop­pers, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial re­search I’ve plainly just made up, the re­quest for pay­ment is in­vari­ably as­tound­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter how many times they have been there be­fore. It could be a hun­dred or a tril­lion. When­ever the check­out op­er­a­tive says, ‘That’s £73.49’, it’s al­ways a JFK mo­ment – news so vis­cer­ally shock­ing, that the hearer will never for­get where she was or what she was do­ing when she heard it.

By the next visit to Waitrose, she’s for­got­ten. Once again, when the tally is an­nounced, the card is in the purse, which is so deep in the hand­bag that a ca­nary ought to be sent down to de­ter­mine the air qual­ity; and the hand­bag is buried be­neath the 19 items that still need pack­ing in the car­rier bags. Min­utes pass be­fore the trans­ac­tion is com­pleted.

If Waitrose ad­e­quately manned and wom­anned its check­outs, this breach of fun­da­men­tal su­per­mar­ket eti­quette might not in­duce psy­chotic jags in the up­silon-male vic­tim of the de­mented, im­pa­tience-re­lated so­cial dis­or­der tech­ni­cally known in Har­ley Street, af­ter the late Michael, as Win­ner­ial Dis­ease By Proxy.

But these days, the John Lewis Part­ner­ship motto ap­pears to be Al­ways Know­ingly Un­der­staffed. In the Bayswa­ter Waitrose, no more than two of the seven check­outs are ever in use. On a dozen oc­ca­sions in the past cou­ple of months, I have en­gaged a claimant to the ti­tle of man­ager in de­bate about this. The clos­est to an ex­pla­na­tion any of these So­cratic di­a­logues pro­duced was a curt and sullen, ‘Well, a lot of my peo­ple are off sick.’

The con­trast with a Lidl in Sal­is­bury, where the man­ager re­sponded to a sim­i­lar com­plaint with a charm­ing apol­ogy and im­me­di­ately opened a check­out him­self, spoke for it­self. You could tol­er­ate a sprin­kling of Novi­chok for ser­vice like that, though pos­si­bly not for long.

Whether this cu­ri­ously per­ma­nent pan­demic partly ex­plains John Lewis’s re­cent de­cline in prof­its to ap­prox­i­mately zero, or whether the Marie Ce­leste check­outs are a cost-cut­ting re­sponse to that, is a cap­ti­vat­ing chicken-and-egg co­nun­drum bet­ter left to re­tail an­a­lysts.

Suf­fice it to say that this tem­ple to gen­teel, mid­dle-class shop­ping sen­si­bil­i­ties isn’t what it was – and that the hor­rific queues make it a mo­ral im­per­a­tive for ev­ery cus­tomer of ev­ery gen­der to avoid a place where the poor sods stretch back, like the bi­b­li­cal host of Is­raelites in the wilder­ness, to the ta­ble sauces sec­tion at the far end of aisle 11.

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