May's column (below) was also one of my better ones, so I hope you enjoy it. This one is on supermarkets, brought to you in glorious monochrome.
I love supermarkets. I know many have been flogging us drugged-up horse flesh from Romania. But I love ‘em.
Repackaging my little pony as prime beefburger is not their only sin. I’m aware some farmers hate them, and the mere prospect of Tesco setting up shop in a Surrey village can turn the most fervent free-market evangelist into a quivering heap of nimbyfied indignation. But where else are you going to get lager and cashback at 11pm?
That’s not to say I don’t support independent retailers in principle and practice. Every Saturday morning on BBC Surrey Breakfast my regular guest is Pauline Hedges, a director of Surrey Farmers’ Markets. She, more than anyone, knows the value and joy that can be derived from enabling a hyper-local supply chain to flourish, and she gets a weekly platform to talk about it, on my show.
But I do love supermarkets. I love the way the doors are almost always open. I love the twofer deals. I even like the trollies. They’re built much better than they used to be, don’t you think?
Once wilful reminders of humanity’s inability to manufacture anything that does what it’s supposed to, the modern shopping trolley is now a highly-engineered thoroughbred, partnering us in a glorious retail tango as we traverse the smooth-as-marble performance space.
Most people use television to put their brains into a semi-comatose state. I go to Sainsbury’s.
We need food, I need to relax. I talk for a living, and in a supermarket, you don’t need to talk, especially with the self-service tills. It’s just you, your little metal chariot and the products. Mmm... the products. The enticing packaging and the promise of so much that’s good and wholesome - or thick and indulgent - underneath.
It’s not just me. In his novel White Noise Don DeLillo describes supermarkets (with their “dazzling hedgerows” of produce) as centres of “magic and dread”. When the arch lyricist Jarvis Cocker narrates a relationship in Pulp's 1995 hit Common People, he locates the first date in a supermarket. As an arty-farty graduate with a degree in post-structuralist literary theory, I remember thinking “well, of course.”
Aesthetically they are a disaster. Who in their right mind has ever said “oh what a pretty supermarket”? It somehow gets worse when they try squeezing local/metro/mini versions into old pubs. Once inside, we have to deal with strip lighting, freezing temperatures, odd smells (my wife won’t go in one supermarket because of the overwhelming stink of roast chicken that greets her at the door) and drab colour schemes.
Then you have the pertinent arguments about food miles, the relationship supermarkets have with their suppliers, and their willingness to keep undercutting independents until local butchers, bakers and newsagents expire in little puffs of despair.
I could decide this is terrible, and that I should resolve to do my shopping in Walton-on-Thames high street without going to the nearby Aldi, Waitrose or Sainsbury’s.
But I have to recognise I am what I am. A happy little supermarket consumer. And if that means I end up eating equine derivative from an unidentified east european abattoir, then I’m getting exactly what I deserve.
April 2013 - on The Invasion of the Coffee Shops
March 2013 - There was NO column in March 2013...
February 2013 - on turning 40
January 2013 - why January should be about headaches, mild depression and whisky