Sociology in Aisle 4

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David Cameron yesterday claimed that people in Waitrose are more talkative than those in other supermarkets. The Prime Minister claimed to have developed a ‘supermarket sociology’ on the topic of which store’s patrons are most garrulous, or, ‘engaged’, as he put it. Cameron’s flippant use of the word ‘sociology’ when he in fact meant ‘esoteric pish’ was in-keeping with the general Tory party line on the validity of sociology:  George Osborne also appeared to sneer at the subject in his speech to the Tory party conference a couple of years ago, accusing other political parties of attempting to “mark people by their background, to divide, to try to re-order and pre-distribute society by the rules of their favourite sociology textbook.” Lucky Cameron’s sociological theories haven’t been published in a textbook, I suppose.

Labour responded with a typically po-faced ‘look how out of touch he is!’ statement, before adding ‘there’s nothing wrong enjoying shopping at Waitrose’ (sic) so as not to alienate those crucial swing-voters. I’m not saying that Labour are wrong; of course Cameron and his entire cabinet are hopelessly out of touch, it’s just that I’d rather Labour showed this by differentiating themselves in policy terms, rather than through this repetitive dirge every time the Tory Party mask slips.

Anyway, I’ve been to Waitrose (Caviar’s on the Gauche) as well as all the other supermarkets, and I can debunk Cameron’s flawed sociological survey. I can say, with what I feel is a degree of authority, that one is most likely to converse with fellow consumers in the two following shops: Lidl in Govan on a summer’s evening, and any 24-hour supermarket between the hours of midnight and 2am.

Surrounded by dead high-streets and desolate housing schemes, these places are where the nightowls are to be found hovering. I was in one such establishment in a at roughly 1am on a weeknight a few months ago attempting to use the self-scan machine. Over my shoulder a rotund middle aged man with a metal walking-stick asked whether I had a loyalty card. ‘You’re not a member of staff’ I thought, perplexed. He explained, however, that since I did not, he’d be much obliged if I’d use his on the machine, aiding in his quest to amass points and earn rewards.  I agreed and he scanned his card with my purchase. Our interaction at an end, I made to leave with my bag when he tapped my shoulder once more.

Any staff about?”  He asked.

Eh…” I swivelled my head like a pigeon and rotated on the spot like a primadonna in a music box. “Not really, want me to go get somebody?” I guessed that in his state of infirmity he might be struggling with what appeared to be a very full trolley.

No! No, son, leave it. I’m not paying for any of this stuff’.

I’d given no notice to him prior to his request that I use his Clubcard, so I didn’t see exactly what he’d been doing, but his groceries were all bagged-up and sitting in his trolley with the appearance of having been paid for.

Together we made our way to the moving walkway at the front of the store that leads to the entrance below. Standing together on the moving grid he told me “You can do that in here when it’s quiet enough.”  At the bottom, where the automatic doors let you out into the carpark, stood an attentive member of staff. “Let me get you a taxi and help with those bags, sir.” He said moving towards my frail companion.

You’re too kind, son” He replied to the eager employee while shooting a little grin in my direction. I smiled back as the doors sprung open. It was a beautiful fucking moment.

You don’t get that in Waitrose. People steal, but it’s the struggling middle class attempting to hide their desperation, there’s not the same sense of camaraderie about it. In the small hours on weeknights, when the perspex doors open and your pupils adjust to the darkness beyond the big bright box, we really are all in it together.

edited 9/04/2014 to anonymise people and places.

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