Blog Archives

Take Two

It’s an astounding act of hubris isn’t it?  To write a post about a film you watched.  As if anyone even cares.

But some films have such integrity that they demand you bear witness.  Not  just by watching them, but by saying you did and perhaps by considering some of the wider issues highlighted.  Such a film was The Turin Horse from yesterday’s post; such a film was The Moo Man.  You may of course say that such a notion is nonsense, a film, is a film, is a film, but I believe a good film contains essential truths that it is good to reflect on in the aftermath of the watching.  This means my idea of a good film may not be widely shared – for instance I would not have Jaws in my top ten, but I would have Harold and Maude.

Anyway, that’s another story, back to The Moo Man.  I am not sure about the title myself, but the hero, farmer Stephen Hook is an appealing character and the film was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival – what I like to think of as Cannes with soul.   Hook is an understated, thinking stockman who chooses to have a smaller organic herd and build real relationships with his herd.  His unlikely heroine is a cow called Ida.  There are moments of humour and moments of gravity, often involving Ida, and on one occasion, Eastbourne.  The Moo Man is not as slow as yesterday’s offering, with its 30 takes only approach, but the pace is as sedate and the scenes mooch through as if channelling Hook Farm’s Friesian herd of heifers ambling towards the milking parlour.  That’s not to say nothing goes on – a lot does – the whole cycle of life as it happens, which is, I suppose, what it has in common with the visually grimmer The Turin Horse.

There is a baddie too.  It’s the supermarkets, who buy the milk from dairy farmers for less than it costs the farmers to produce.  If you don’t think that’s got anything to do with you, watch the film and consider the nation’s balance sheet.  Stephen Hook is taking some of his milk straight to market in its raw form to try and keep the farm in the family.  Organic milk has got to be better for you than the chemical cocktail variety, and untreated raw milk claims even more health benefits.  Having watched The Moo Man,  it’s also definitely far better for the cows.

If you are interested in what the farm does, visit the website of Hook & Son here.

‘I swoosh, therefore I am…

the World’s Expert on Listerine.’

This is what I said on Sunday.  In public.

Supermarkets are funny things, they bring out the worst in me.  I only EVER pick up a wire basket because I will not be in there long enough to fill a trolley.  I have written about such things before.  This habit was all very well when it was me and two dogs.  Now there are children.  They grow and wish to grow more.  This requirement demands an unceasing quantity of food and much frequenting of aisles of the supermarket variety.  I try to go to smaller shops when possible, I like the Co-op wine section, but the food is a bit of a worry.  They don’t have wire baskets there either, instead they have giant black crate things for customers to lug round.  I constantly pick up two stuck together, without noticing, and then nearly die of shock by the bread when the bottom one in the stack falls to the ground with a great clattering thud.  So, although I prefer the Co-op on principle, I don’t actually shop there much.

Sainsburys is the nearest (well not as near as the M&S BP) so I do end up there more than I want.   It’s very expensive and, lately, the merchandising has been shoddy.  It was the case of the Listerine at the weekend that tipped me over the edge.  Basically, because when I come to think of a form of words to explain myself it all sounds very boring, I picked up Listerine marked on the shelf as 50% off – so £2 something instead of £5 something.  This was a proper discount, not one of those fake ones supermarkets go in for. Reader, it went in the basket.  At the till?  5 quid and more.

I was going to let it go.  It’s not the first time I’ve been caught out by the store putting items in the wrong place, over a bogus offer.  You need a law degree and a good pair of glasses to read the small print sometimes.  However, it was pouring with rain and I was on foot.  I thought I’d kill some time by pointing out the mistake to customer services, but prior to that I’d check the offer again.  It’s at this point that you realise you have a problem, isn’t it?  But, I reasoned, it was not about the money, it was the principle and I thought, at least I could save the next Listerine-swilling shopper a shock at the till.

I retraced my steps to the shelves.  It’s at this point I now realise you need a photo of the product placement.  I don’t have one.  Supermarkets don’t like you taking photos in their stores.  You may not know this, but Listerine mouth wash comes in many colours and sizes all with multifarious magical properties that will guarantee glossy gnashers and gums until your ticker throws in the towel, or whatever.  They’ve got absinthe green and pale green, blue, yellow, purple, silvery, red, orange.  I swear, Listerine comes in every colour of the rainbow and more besides.  So the shelf merchandisers just lob it all on, shuffle the price tags around into a vague approximation of the actual price on the system and bugger off home.  A bit like this.

This is by no means the full product range


My problem was that the Total Cavity Guard Listerine in Sainsburys was not only over the wrong price label, there was no right  label at all.   And it was this that I pointed out on Sunday.  The customer service assistant didn’t seem to think that this was a very big deal, or that customers were terribly interesting or intelligent or that service really was her thang.  The combination of her ill-chosen words, and nonchalant non-verbal communication drove me to make the outrageous World’s Expert on Listerine claim.  I also told her I would be back the following day to check that this was sorted out.  (Of course I forgot to because, actually, I am not really a crazy middle-aged old cow with nothing better to do than hector supermarket workers about fucking dental hygiene products on a Monday. )   The assistant eventually offered to refund my money to the ‘advertised price’ but I seized what I liked to think of as the moral high ground and refused.  It’s not the money… it’s the principle, I opined.  What a twat  I can be.  Anyway, it had stopped raining by then, so I walked home.  But I was not so secretly a little bit pissed off, with the attitude and the sloppy merchandising and the general trickery perpetrated on unwitting customers  that they go in for in that bloody shop.

The post script to this is that I was back in there yesterday and  I couldn’t resist checking the Listerine shelves.  This time, all  the products were priced, up but the offending item of Sunday was still placed over the wrong price tag – you’d still be picking it up expecting to pay two quid summat and be hit for over a fiver at the till.  Still, it was an improvement, at least the correct price tag was there, just in the wrong place.  I could have just swapped all the merchandise around, but I didn’t.  I trekked back to the customer service desk and then, assuming my World’s Expert role once more, took them to the shelves and pointed it out, again.  The original customer service bod from the weekend recognised me and dived for deep cover.  Another lady accompanied me to the display and very solemnly swapped the Listerine bottles into their correct places on the shelves.  I told her I would be keeping an eye on this…

It’s official: I have gone mad.

Morrisons: Doomed?

I used to pop into the supermarket Morrisons a fair bit. It is a few miles away, further than any of the other supermarkets (apart from Asda but they don’t sell much of an edible nature there anyway), but I felt the extra distance was made up for because the car park is opposite a huge wild ‘park’ that the dog can run in. I also have a soft spot for the Morrisons hand-raised pork pies (no jelly). So if I wasn’t in a hurry I could have good walk, a quick shop followed by a quality pork pie with hard-boiled egg for lunch (cranberry jelly on the side, left over from Christmas).

I went back there today, the first time this year; in fact the first time in months. Six maybe. I wondered why it had been so long, the walk went so well. The dog was very happy to be able to run to his heart’s content, conduct a spot of light hunting in a spinney and both of us were overjoyed to not have to deal with any other bugger or his or her dog. We had the space to ourselves. Perfect. Then I went into Morrisons…

Firstly, there were no hand-raised pork pies. There were slabs of giant pork pie in the reduced chiller cabinet and there were mini pork pies of a different brand, but sadly these were not the boys for me. No hand-raised? No pie of the pork. Lunch was off. I bought a few other bog standard items one must have with children to feed and one other item which pleased me a little and minded me to forgive the lack of hand-raised pork pies on the shelves (even whilst the deli area was overflowing with some filthy pasty concoction filled with spicy chicken). As I shuffled down to the tills I was half-thinking, ‘Oh it’s not too bad, I mustn’t leave it so long again.’ And then there it was: the queue for the self-service tills.

I attempted to join an ordinary queue, for those with trolleys, but it was hopeless. No room at the inn. So I joined the queue for the automated shopping experience and as I waited it all came back to me: why I had stopped coming here over six months before. The self-service tills are the most inefficient ones in the known universe. Sainsburys can be annoying,yes; Tescos are not too bad, but the Morrisons self-service machines are down there in the pits along with WH Smiths (that shop is a whole new post altogether).

For a start, they don’t bloody work. Or, Morrisons customers can’t work them. This means that one member of staff has to work the self-service tills with the customers in a very tight space with a packed audience, circumstances which contrive to make the customer feel stupid and the staff member very snappy. The machines shout incessantly. They shout at the customers (who are getting it all wrong) and then the staff member shouts at the machine or the customer, depending on how their stress levels are doing. Strangely, we the customers, the most put upon in the whole transaction do not shout at all but the self-service debacle/spectacle fills those of us patiently waiting with irritation, or dread. It is self-evident the self-service till is going to make a fool of us too, we just have to stand in line and worry about what manner of humiliation this will take.

For the man in front of me it was the ‘Notes In’ part of the transaction. For me it was that when I stepped up to the plate that one machine would not take cash. I went to the back of the queue and did not collect one hundred pounds. When it was my turn (again) on the one machine deigning to take card payments on this, the 23rd day in the month of the year 2013 AD, I thought I made a good start. I thought, for a moment, I was doing quite well with the self-service wheeze. I was not. The shop assistant who works like a demon across two self-service tills, self-served me to a repacking of my bag. I had constructed a wobbling edifice of eggs, goose fat and pizza because the weighing and packing areas are the size of a postage stamp. As she rearranged my goods to her satisfaction, she patronisingly pointed out my idiocy and transferred some of my goods to the other, secret packing area I had not seen.


Of course she was simply exacting revenge on me because when the old man in front had been defeated by the ‘Notes In’ section of the machine, I had helpfully suggested he shoved his tenner in another of the machine’s many orifices. My helpful suggestion proved to be the wrong orifice too and when the shop assistant had told us both off for being so thick I had mildly protested that she was being a touch impatient with the customers.

After all, we don’t actually work there. We haven’t had any self-service till training. This cut no ice with the Morrisons staff.

‘That man,’ she said, as I was leaving (he was about 80 years old), ‘that man… He comes in here every day and uses these machines every day!’.

‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘he has a short memory.’

‘Selective more like!’ she snapped.

I took my goods. It had taken me 5 minutes to get the basket full of shopping and 10 to pass through the self-service feather and tarring of customers. This is why Morrisons is doomed.

On the other hand, I did get two bottles of my favourite beer for £1.50 each and I had a nice chat whilst I was waiting to be made a fool of by an inanimate object and paid staff with a lady whose niece goes to the Judi Dench School of Acting. Or something. This proves that all Morrisons customers are lovely, a little bit old, reliant on public transport or simply misguided. Those of us that have the choice not to be put upon and abused by machinery and stressed out by supermarket staff with the hump are probably shopping elsewhere now.

Consumer ‘choices’ we just don’t need

My poor head sometimes makes dodgy links between things and to be shot of them I dump it on here (that’s a bad pun which might become clear by the end of the post). So that’s a warning, what follows might be a load of old shit that doesn’t make much sense. I have tried to get it to cohese, but it’s not quite there. If you are enjoying your Sunday morning, get out now whilst you still can.

This week I read this article, about the emotional part of the brain being involved in complex decision making processes. It referred to research that suggested that trying to make complex decisions on a purely rational basis will lead to a greater chance of your making a poor decision. For example, I can immediately apply it to punting decisions; it explains why all the study of collateral form in the world won’t necessarily find you the big Saturday handicap winner… The research reminds us that there’s a lot more going on in your subconscious mind that can usefully contribute to thought processes than you might be aware of.

The example used in the opening paragraph of the linked article (How Should We Make Hard Decisions) is about the choice a shopper makes about which toothpaste to buy. Because there are so many types of toothpaste, promising to do so much for you, the simple entry of ‘toothpaste’ on your shopping list can turn into a demanding cognitive choice as your rational brain attempts to sift through and compare all the information on offer. The article’s conclusion is that you will buy the one that ‘feels’ the best.

I kind of knew what the writer was on about. I have referred to that moment before on here, when I become trapped in a supermarket aisle staring for ages trying to make a tortuous purchase decision. This process can be exacerbated when I am hungover. But as hard as I thought about the toothpaste example, it just didn’t ring true. I always buy the one that’s on offer, usually placed at the end of the aisle. I have no feeling other than the one about having saved a quid, or whatever.

The point is we don’t really need all those types of toothpaste to choose from do we? It’s a choice, but it’s a false one, because, as the research suggests, we can’t process the choice cognitively anyway. I buy what makes me feel good in terms of saving money, you might buy the one with a red, blue and white stripe. The concept of choice is an illusory one in this case because we buy based on feel or habit, or pricing. And even if we make a ‘poor’ choice it is unlikely our teeth will fall out immediately as a result.

Actually, there’s a whole philosophical debate to be had there about free will and toothpaste, but I am too addled for that today. Let’s just say, the research is good, but the toothpaste example just didn’t work for me.

Anyway, I’ve now sadly got this choice concept in my head and I am out in the world shopping later in the week and I come across two types of toilet roll piled high: buy 9 rolls and get another 9 free. I approach the toilet roll buying in the same way I do the toothpaste (have you noticed how half a supermarket aisle can be given over to stocking each of these products – anything that saves me disappearing down the aisle can only be good).

The thing is, in this enticing BOGOF (another crap pun alert), type one is white, and type two is that rather murky colour which might be best described as something akin to mouldy apricot as it is neither yellow nor orange, nor indeed cream.

And stocks of the white one are running low because that’s the one that people want to buy. Why? Do they feel better about white paper? Or do they know that more dyes go into coloured toilet paper and it is therefore less environmentally friendly (is that true?)? Or do most people have white bathrooms and it’s a style decision they base their selection on? Or maybe it’s just because that murky, mouldy apricot colour is just too disgusting to have in the house if you don’t have to.

That must be it!

But I suppose, to link it back to the research, we feel that white toilet paper is the best – even though, rationally speaking, the job it does cannot be affected by the shade it comes in…

In any case, toilet-paper manufacturers of the world, save us the bother of potentially being in a cognitive overload situation when choosing bog roll – scrap the filthy pastel shades, the impregnated with aloe vera varieties, the quilting and the twee embossed varieties and just make one sort of plain toilet roll: white.




So wrong, like you would not believe

There are some strange people who take it all too seriously indeed here

Further notes from The Reluctant Consumer

That’s me. If I was going to start another blog it would be called that. I have previously blogged a bit about being fleeced by the utilitymen whilst I sit innocently on the sofa and, probably like you, find that facet of my helpless consuming continues unabated. If only that were all. I am also forced out and about from time to time to confront the coalface of consumption, otherwise known as: a shop.

I am not big on shops. I have worked in a few and I was not big on customers when I was behind the till either. Being not big on shops, or indeed the verb related to them, I have to go in them far more frequently than you might think. My tolerance levels are so low (on the floor in fact) that I can only bear to shoot in and out with a hand basket. The spoils this garners clearly does not feed a family of four for a week, so I am back in, usually the following day on a repeat mission. My fickle nature additionally sees me tarting round a smorgasbord of purveyors of foodstuffs and other consumables, wherein I refuse to join their loyalty reward programmes. This because I know these doing you a favour, fool schemes are also aka collecting intimate information on you and your dependants. I remain, in my mind, under their radar.

To maintain this elusive status I like to work the aisles haphazardly, doubling back on myself, charging up and then down and then up the central aisles. I start with bakery and work back to the veg. I go in and buy coffee and than wend my way back to the carrot soup. I am a smash, swerve and grab shopper.

Except sometimes. Those are the days when I am on a go slow. On those days my trusty psychological armour against supermarket trickery slips and lets in a chink of their consumer manipulation and then I find I can’t escape. I may look like I am frozen in time, staring at a product for far too long, but what I am doing is trying not to fall for their tricks. This kind of torture usually coincides with having over-indulged the night before. The other weekend I got trapped in this manner in Sainsburys. In a state of confusion and overwhelm (I’ve made it a noun now – that’s what happens if you spend too long in a supermarket) I could have easily sat down in aisle 12 and cried. You see, in that staring moment, I am fighting a losing battle. I have blundered into their House of Mirrors without knowing what I want and I am consequently highly susceptible to their BOGOFs , their 3 for 2s, their fake alcohol discounts (hair of the dog obviously) and their random rubbish near the tills like £3 DVDs. The crazy staring is merely evidence of my internal effort to fight the good fight and only spend a tenner instead of the practically obligatory redback.

Don’t suggest online grocery shopping either. Booking a delivery slot is too traumatic (amongst other things). The page doesn’t refresh in real time and the van icon that you had set your heart on vanishes into thin air when you want to commit your Wednesday evening to an evenings all-weather racing and waiting in for your baked beans to arrive.

Anyway, last Sunday, because I was trapped in a supermarket for a very long time, trying to decide on dinner, the store announcer permeated my brain. You really notice these announcements in Sainsburys because there is no piped tuneage. If you like a bit of music whilst you shop, go to the Co-op or Asda (although there’s nothing edible in the latter they do have their own radio station). Returning to Sunday in the Supermarket (it’s not Smollenskys on the Strand is it?), this is what I heard (more or less):

Would all suitably trained staff please go to checkouts to support your colleagues?

It wasn’t a command, it was bit more of a plea. I knew the staff member that I had seen with the pink feather duster dusting the crap off the crap on the central aisle, near the seasonal shit, opposite dairy where only the lactose intolerant won’t venture, wouldn’t be going to support anyone. She clearly had only received training (mandatory) in the ways of the duster. Neither would the Customer Service lady in the extraordinary wig be going either. She never, ever leaves her domain where people queue to ask dopey questions about their Nectar points and to return stuff they never needed in the first place.

Was there a stampede of other Sainsburys staff to the checkouts? There was not. And when I arrived there, with my trolley (no energy to carry a basket) I did not find half-fainting checkout operators in need of urgent support either. I just found the usual Sunday scene: a load of other hungover people queuing to buy sustenance and some rubbish DVDs and the papers. And in a neat twist, my till operator delayed my alcoholic transaction, not to check I was over 21, but because she needed someone to check her selling thereof because she was… Let’s hope this management style doesn’t find it’s way into the armed forces.

Would all suitably trained soldiers please head to the front in Afghanistan to support their colleagues. Unless, of course, you are busy cleaning your musket. And if you are under 21 can you bring someone else along to authorise your shooting people and people shooting you back.

I find I am increasingly irritated with the cost of that campaign, or war or whatever it is. We just can’t afford it can we? Not when a bunch of crap on a Sainsburys Sunday costs fifty sodding quid.

There’s more, but I think you’ve been trapped in these aisles long enough.

The M-Theory: a beef

Philosophers have been all of a twitter this morning as the new Stephen Hawking book “The Grand Design” is released (or are books launched?).  Of course, I’ve not read it (nor am I likely to certainly not in its entirety), but I have been acquainted with some of the contents on the Today programme.  (OMG I can’t wait until Melyvn gets his mitts on it!)

“Philosophy is dead”  is one of Professor Hawking’s assertions.  As far as I can gather he says this because philosophers can’t do the maths.  They haven’t kept up with the theory of quantum, the string or the superstrings and as such have nothing to contribute on the matter of matter.  Neither does God according to Hawking.  The existence of matter, the universe and even more universe can be explained apparently by a bit of maths and physics and there is no need for us to trifle around with the quaint notion of a “creator”.  It is all just sums.

Of course I am oversimplifying, but that is the curse of being a great big fat brain book writer.  No-one really follows all of what you write, although they pretend they do.  I am not really pretending am I?  Never mind.  The M-theory seeks to pull together all the theories of creation and existence, taking a bit from each of the smorgasbord of Big Bangs, Cheese String, Half-Dead Cats, Apples in Lincolnshire and whatever Einstein was on.  In short, with these ingredients universes can make themselves.  Great isn’t it? 

No-one knows what the M in The Theory stands for either.  Meta, Master, Miracle, Mystery are all contenders.  Personally I think it stands for Mince.  As in Mince Theory: Cottage Pie, Spag Bol, Chilli con carne.   Beef Cattle are being slaughtered all over the country, so that we can cart home record quantities of mince from the supermarket.  For the first time, it’s been reported that sales of mince have outstripped all over cuts of beef.  This is bad for the beef industry and bad for our diet frankly, speaking as someone who last night dined on mince in the form of “Organic Duchy Beefburgers”.  What’s happening to all those steaks and roasting joints?  How much mince can you get off one cow?  Just like my stomach turns slightly when confronted with a packet of  multiple drumsticks (how many chickens are in there and what happened to the rest of them), so the thought of good beef going to mince is depressing.  If we must eat meat (and it seems I must) at least honour the beast you eat by buying a bit more than its cheap bits piled high on a never-ending offer in Tescos.

Don’t bother with the book.  The Makemeadiva Theory is this: the universe is made of mince.

Disclaimer:  I am not against mince or drumsticks I just think (and I have a family to feed on a finite budget too) that for each mince dish we should balance it out with a roast or some ox tail.  Oh, and we don’t have to eat meat every day, nor in the quantity of an American. 

Disclaimer 2: I am not American but I have been there and you guys do eat an awful quantity of processed meat.  Tut.