A nation of shopkeepers

Forget poached, scrambled or fried. Would you like homogenised, organic, Omega E or free-range eggs? Now please choose between Colombian Blacktail, Burford Brown, or Old Cotswold St Leger. And you can have Straw-bedded, Barn, Woodland or Economy. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer quails’ eggs or duck eggs, white eggs or double-yolkers?

To even the most seasoned and spiced South African shopper, the array of goods in an English supermarket can be totally baffling. Hours spent wandering around Waitrose and Sainsbury’s leave the free-range shopper marvelling, making notes and, in my case, much to the amazement of other buyers, taking photographs.

Meanwhile, the experts are whistling around with their trolleys, deftly manoeuvring them in and out of the aisles and studying, en passant, the carefully stacked special offers. Why not pick up 12 falafels at a bargain price? (For Oxfordshire’s no-doubt-burgeoning Syrian population). Char-grilled mushrooms? (You’ll never again have to go through the complicated procedure of cooking a mushroom). Or Pate Ardennes? (Buy 3 get 1 free, you’ve got to be keen on it to want four pates though).

You can buy countless ready-made sandwich fillings in pots. Just spread it on! It’s not that easy though. You still have to decide whether to go for the ordinary range (chicken, bacon and sweetcorn or egg and bacon) or the luxury range (chicken coronation or Moroccan chickpea). And then is it a megapot 410g job or will a 170g standard do the trick? Or maybe you should consider going for the Be Good to Yourself range to cut down on the fat content. But then you’ve still got to choose whether to have one 240g Cajun chicken sandwich filler for 1.55 or to pick up 2 for 2.50.

There’s a huge display dedicated to the Prince of Wales’s organic Duchy range and, nearby, I counted nine metres of olive oils, 30 flavours of fresh ready-made soups (Mushroom and Chestnut is recommended) and 75 different salad dressings. Instead of today’s offering from Fairview, there is an aisle 30 metres long, lined with different cheeses from all around the world, including Fairview. Surely if they can get Fairview to Henley-on-Thames, then we could get Pie d’Anglois to Witbank?

There are over 20 different species of bread, not including speciality breads, baked in-store, multi-grain, harvest grain, multi-seeded, malted grain and so on. How does a shopper choose? And more to the point, when all the names are so confusingly similar, how on earth do they remember what they had last time? “Darling do we have the one with the pumpkin seeds on the top or in the mixture and are the seeds toasted or not?”

And in addition to food there’s homeware, hardware, household and pet, stationery, flowers, and a huge acreage dedicated to drink. I am not sure whether I was more impressed to see a section with designer dog-clothes, four shelves of different kinds of candles (as opposed to our paltry ranges of Lighthouse Candles, clever name! in white, blue or green) or the in-store deli party range, where you can pick up a whole party and stick it in the back of the car (guests not included).

There were one or two South African items dotted about the store but obviously there was fruit and veg from all around the world. Everything is labelled by its country of origin and we are hitting serious competition from Israel and Brazil. There is a large amount of South African wine but they seem to get all our cheapest blends, with such ludicrous names as Bouquet Blanc du Cap and African Drumbeat Red.

To top it all off, the real fundis bill themselves for everything throughout the store. No more messing about with checkout. Who needs to provide employment? Just pick up a zapper as you enter the store, feed in your loyalty card, read the barcode on each item as you trolley it, and John Lewis is your uncle (NOT Joshua Doore), wheel it out to the car park. I bought the totally un-grand ingredients for a dinner for 4 (including, in a patriotic splurge, a couple of bottles of Springfield Sauvignon Blanc) and spent 75. That’s over R1000. It’s still cheaper than going to the pub for dinner, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?

Anyway let’s get to it. If they can have so many different kinds of egg, what can we find in our local supermarkets? Well, we have small, medium, large or extra-large eggs. We have shredded tuna or light meat tuna. There’s cheddar, gouda or blue cheese and we have red, white and rose wine. Oh and blanc de noir (which is different from rose but very hard to explain) and semi-sweet, the top seller. Thank goodness for Ina Paarman’s range of spices, shakes and sauces, where we save a little face.

I think we’ve got a bit of work to do, but, more importantly than that, can you imagine our being twusted, twolley for twolley, to take a zapper and self-charge? I don’t think so.