“Would you like help with packing your bags”?

First published in The Post, Volume 23, No: 3. September 2007

It was a busy Saturday morning at our local supermarket, and uncharacteristically forced to shop at the weekend because of a hectic midweek schedule my wife and I battled our way through the hordes towards the checkout. Oh what joy as we rounded the last aisle to view all 35 checkouts with long lines and the approach aisle invisible for a sea of people?

So was this just ‘SWOS’ (shear weight of shoppers)? Well not entirely! As we made our way up our line towards the checkout we could see the angelic faces of two children, a boy and a girl, accompanied by a harassed adult. The boy obviously bored and preferring to be with his friends playing football rather than trapped in a supermarket, kindly stopped picking his nose when the checkout assistant asked “would you like help with packing your bags”? Now what do you say? From the ‘T’ shirts being worn by the kids (and their adult minder) they were raising funds to fight the proposed closure of a local pre-school nursery. Clearly not wanting to offend them when our turn came around we timidly responded “yes please”!

It was at this point that I took up a position behind the kart (i.e. the furthermost distance from the little angels) so that I could avoid any possible temptation of a Basil Fawlty like ‘clip to the head’ as our little helpers happily put anything in any bag, tipped upside-down goods you would want to stand upright, and disregarded the fragility of items like flowers and greetings cards. The girl inspected every item as if she had never seen them before, poking her fingers through the packaging to examine the texture of the Broccoli (very educational)! Her limited stature meant that on average five items was all she could handle per carrier bag. Then followed the double handling as the obviously stressed adult was trying to combine the part-filled bags thereby compounding the problem. It didn’t help though when struggling to get a French Stick (i.e. a long thin bread loaf) to balance upright alongside other  items in a half empty bag she solved the problem by ‘folding it’, thereby breaking it into two halves, so that it could be packed ‘efficiently’!  Thank goodness my wife was with me and able to cautiously supervise operations while making the children feel as if they were adding value and earning our donations. Unfortunately they were just making the lines longer, elongating the transaction times, and raising the blood pressure of shoppers.

Is this just a UK phenomenon that groups raising funds are allowed to terrorise shoppers at the checkout on the busiest shopping day of the week?