Not Only Food

We all know that prices are going up. Fuel, Gas, Electricity, nothing ever seems to go down. Those same price increases are beginning to impact on food prices too, as anyone who has recently done a ‘big shop’ at a supermarket will tell you.

On the 21st of March, we went to get our regular weekly shop at the huge branch of Tesco in Dereham, the supermarket we use the most. Julie came with me on that occasion, as I am still unable to drive. I had my list ready, and didn’t buy any ‘extras’, or anything on impulse. I was also only shopping for six days, not seven, as we had something in the freezer for one meal that week.

After packing everything away at the checkout, the total bill came to £97. ($128) Bearing in mind there are only two of us, that seemed a lot. On the way home, Julie remarked how much it had gone up from the previous week, and that we might have to start thinking seriously about reducing our bill by buying cheaper things.

When I got home, I decided to check the till receipt in detail, and realised that a large percentage of what we had bought was not food at all. The breakdown was something like this.

Antibacterial Spray. £1.50
Bin liners. £2.40
Liquid hand soap. £1.50
Shower/bath gel. £2.00
Toilet Rolls.
(9-pack) £5.00
Kitchen Roll.
(2-pack) £3.50
Bleach. £0.50
Toothpaste. £2.60
Deodorant Can. £1.70

Total £20.70 ($28)

That brought the shopping bill down to £76.30. ($100.50) Of course, I don’t have to buy everything on that list every week. Some of those items will last longer than seven days.

Then there was Ollie to consider, if you have a pet.

Bag of dog food pellets. £4.00
Box of Bonio Biscuits. £1.60
Treats. £2.00
Fresh chicken for his dinners. £4.50

Total £12.10 ($16)

Take that off the shopping bill, and we were left with a new total of £64.20. ($85) That is a little over £10 ($13.16) a day for food for six days for two people.
Seen like that, it is actually not that bad.

The Blame Game

Earlier this afternoon, I made the weekly trip to the huge Tesco on the edge of the local town. With all the leftovers to eat, I didn’t exactly have a long shopping list, but we needed a few everyday essentials. On top of those, we decided to have a ‘Tapas’ buffet on New Year’s Eve, so there was an extra list to see what I could get to add to that.

The shop was busy, something to be expected on its first full day of trading after the seasonal closures.

I headed to the aisle where you can get boring things you need, like bin-liners.
They were in stock.

In the same area is tinfoil. The shelves were bare. Well, not exactly bare as the usual long boxes of assorted sizes of tinfoil had been replaced by rows of ‘tinfoil containers’. Despite suspecting the answer in advance, I approached a young man who was removing empty cardboard from the shelf. I asked if there was any tinfoil in the stockroom. “We have these”, he said pointing out some takeaway-style tinfoil boxes with paper lids. I told him I couldn’t spread those on the inside of a roasting tin, or wrap up opened cheese in them. His reply was boringly predictable.

“Sorry, it’s Covid. Oh, and Christmas. We are short of drivers and are waiting on deliveries”.

I headed to the deli counter, to buy some fresh anchovies in oil, Spanish-style, to add to our Tapas buffet. There were none visible. I asked a man at the fish counter, his beard reminiscent of that sported by the famous W.G. Grace, and strangely contorted by his face mask. He looked perplexed, and went to get someone. He returned with a lady who looked very confident. “She’s the fish-buyer”, he told me, his beard moving like a furry glove puppet under the mask.

The lady knew her stuff.

“Anchovies? I can tell you we don’t have an anchovy left in the shop, not even in jars or tins, let alone fresh. Sorry, it’s the Covid, and Brexit. A shortage of drivers, and they are imported too of course. We haven’t had an anchovy in this shop since Christmas Eve, and no idea when they will be back in stock”.

I thanked her for her efforts.

Having decided to cook a Chinese stir fry at the weekend, I was pleased to find Pak Choi, Fresh Noodles in boxes, and a nice mix of Chinese vegetables, also fresh in a box. I added two duck breasts in plum sauce to my trolley, and the went in search of some Shiitake mushrooms. There were only white mushrooms on the shelf, so I asked a man who was loading spring onions into a section.

He didn’t actually laugh, but I could tell he wanted to.

“Shiitake mushrooms? Nah, none left. They are imported you know, and we have problems with drivers ’cause of Covid and Brexit. And it’s Christmas, don’t forget that. They get time off, like anyone else. Sorry”.

I smiled back at him, under my mask. I think he could tell I was smiling as I asked him who he was going to blame once there was no Covid, it wasn’t Christmas, and Brexit was ‘normal’. He shrugged as he replied.

“They will find something to blame it on, I’m sure”.

A Very Short Trip To Norwich

Since moving to Norfolk, I have avoided cities whenever possible. I have only been back to London twice in almost ten years, and have also been reluctant to venture into Norwich, the largest city in the county which is twenty miles to the east of Beetley.

However, Christmas is looming, and Julie asked what I wanted as a gift. I chose a new dressing-gown, (robe, for American readers) and regular followers will know how much time I spend in my gown, and how much I love wearing one. I suggested we buy one online, but they are notorious for sizing issues. One version sold as size Large might only just fit, whereas another in the same size could well wrap around me twice.

There was nothing for it, a trip to Marks and Spencer in Norwich could not be avoided.

On Tuesday afternoon, we drove into Dereham, and parked the car for free in the town car park. Ten minutes later, we were on the fast bus to Norwich, heading into the city on a dull and rainy afternoon. I travel for free on my old codger’s bus pass, but Julie had to pay a return fare that was still only half of what it would have cost to park in one of Norwich’s busy multi-storey car parks.

The trip took around thirty minutes in moderate traffic, and the bus dropped us in the shopping centre almost opposite the huge Marks and Spencer shop. We took the lift to the second floor, and emerged in the menswear department exactly at the point where the dressing gowns are displayed. I tried on three different ones, all in the same size. There was that ‘Goldilocks’ moment, with one being too large, (and having an enormous hood that I didn’t want) another only just going around me, and the third being just right.

That third one was a rather luxurious multi-stripe gown of considerable weight and cosiness. The quality was reflected in the price, as it was thirty-percent more expensive than those I had rejected. As Julie paid for it, I quickly bought a new pair of black jogging trousers for dog-walking, and we were back inside the bus station within fifteen minutes of arriving. The next bus was ten minutes away, and coincided with the city’s schools and college finishing for the day.

So the ride home was on a completely full bus, in much heavier late afternoon traffic. But it still only took forty-five minutes to get back to Dereham, and we were in the car and home in Beetley before four-forty.

Considering that we caught the first bus into Norwich just before three in the afternoon, that almost sets a new shopping trip record.

My kind of trip to the shops.

Weekend Anticipation

Scrolling through Twitter, and reading some blog posts, I notice once again that build-up of excitement concerning Fridays, and the anticipation of the coming weekend.

People are posting about their plans to do something on those two days off, what they are going to eat, and looking forward to drinking some alcohol in many cases. There are mini-breaks planned, trips to major cities, shopping sprees, even doing nothing but staying in casual clothes and binge-watching Netflix.

My life in retirement takes no notice of weekends at all. They are just two more days of the week. Even the shops are open as normal, though only until 4pm on Sundays. I can do something different if I want to, but why would I? I am able to see things or to go to places during weekdays when everyone else is at work. Why go to the coast or tourist sites when everyone else is crowding there on their only two days off?

For me in Beetley, a Saturday and Sunday might just as well be a Tuesday and Wednesday. It has been that way since 2012.

Refreshingly liberating, I assure you.

10 Items Or Less

I had to pop out to the supermarket earlier. I only needed fresh bread, some of Ollie’s treats, and a packet of bacon. So I went to the nearest supermarket, not the one I regularly use.

It’s always busy on a Saturday afternoon of course, but that doesn’t bother me. I haven’t been out of Beetley since Monday, so a short afternoon drive is a welcome change.

The queue to get in was unusually long. Even with the pandemic restrictions, there have rarely been more than a few people in front of me. But today it stretched the entire width of the large car park.

Luckily, it moved quite briskly, and when I got to the front, I mentioned ot the security guard that it was unusually busy. He nodded. “Mother’s Day tomorrow, always packed out the day before Mother’s Day. Flowers, chocolates, presents and cards. You know they leave it until the last minute”.

Inside, the store was much busier than I had expected. But as I only had four items in a basket, the long queues at the checkout didn’t concern me, as they have a ’10 Items Or Less’ counter right at the front. As I approached that checkout position, a woman aged about thirty suddenly swept in from the side, pushing a trolley full of groceries. She sneaked in front of me, and began to quickly unload her items onto the belt.

Ignoring her rudeness, I did however become quite annoyed when I saw just how many items she was unloading. I started to count them as she placed them down, and stopped at 27. Then she added some more, including a huge box of bottled beer. Catching her eye, I said “Did you leave school very young?” She looked puzzled, and mumbled “Sorry, what did you say?” “You must have left school before they taught you how to count”, I continued, pointing at the huge sign above the checkout. ’10 Items Or Less Only’.

Blushing red under her small face-mask, she ignored me, and loaded her things into bags. When she had paid and left, I asked the checkout lady why she hadn’t challenged someone who had more than three times the number of items. “Not allowed to, sir. Besides, for what I get paid, it’s not worth my while getting stressed out arguing with customers”.

You had to see her point.

All At Sea In A Shop

With the partial renovation of the kitchen imminent, I had to bite the bullet and drive to a DIY shop yesterday. Two of them in fact. They are more rightly known as ‘Warehouses’ here, as they are quite cavernous, and industrial inside. We went with the intention of choosing tiles and paint.

For my part, I went with the intention of watching my wife choose both tiles and paint, so that I could never be accused of deciding on the wrong style and colour, no matter how long I lived.

Off we went, to the branch of B&Q (No, I don’t know what it stands for) in the town of Fakenham.

For someone like me, they are the strangest of all shops. I am uncomfortable in them, feeling all at sea. I watch the other customers as they choose huge sheets of wood, weigh up different power tools on the displays, and confidently load large barrows with piles of fixings and metal clips that I don’t even know the function of. Some are undoubtedly regulars, heading straight for the rows of this or that, knowing which direction to head in, and picking up exactly what they need.

Men are supposed to feel at home in such shops. They are even expected to be excited at being able to visualise their next project, and looking at improved tools and labour-saving devices. The TV advertisements portray the customers being able to revamp a garden almost overnight, or create a futuristic kitchen over a weekend. I see none of that. Instead, I see things I don’t understand, tools I have no skill in using, or desire to learn how, and endless hours of DIY drudgery as I attempt to end up with a result that is even halfway pleasing.

I am missing that part of my masculinity, I have no doubt. Or perhaps I am just realistic, and aware of my limitations.

Not for them the aisle-by-aisle circuit forced upon me by my lack of knowledge of the shop’s geography, not helped by a Covid-19 inspired one-way-system in place that meant more than one unnecessary loop to get back to tiles or paint. After a great deal of comparison of tiles in colours that looked very similar to me, a choice was made. As luck would have it, bad luck in this case, they only had one box of our choice in stock, and we needed five. So it would mean a trip on another day to the much larger branch in Norwich.

They didn’t have the paint we wanted in the colour we wanted either. They had the exact paint in huge quantities in almost any colour known to man, but not in the Ivory ‘we’ had chosen. We had to settle for two packs of kitchen doorknobs, and a plastic storage box. God forbid we could have left empty-handed.

It was decided to go back into Dereham, to the smaller DIY store called Homebase.

They didn’t have the tiles, but they did have the paint. Fortunately, they did not stock the same doorknobs or storage boxes, so it was agreed that our trip to Fakenham must have been worthwhile.

I would honestly have felt more comfortable in the female lingerie department of Marks and Spencer. I am far more familiar with ladies’ underwear than power tools and plasterboard.

Phone Shopping

You can be forgiven for thinking this is about using some 21st century App to enable you to shop by using your mobile phone, (Cellphone) and either collecting the order, or having it delivered.

It has got nothing to do with that. It is about how so many people can no longer do something as simple as a grocery shop in a supermarket, without being glued to their mobile phone throughout the time spent in the shop.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to get a week’s supplies at the big Tesco supermarket just outside Dereham The Covid-19 restrictions are still in place of course. Queueing outside until allowed in, then a one-way system up and down the aisles, with constant reminders to keep six feet away from other shoppers. All very sensible.

Except that at least 60% of the shoppers seem to beieve that this gives them time and space to still browse aimlessly, being completely ignorant to those of us patiently waiting six feet behind them until they have made their selection. Then there are others who seem to treat a huge supermarket as an extension of their own living room. Glued to their phone throughout, constantly stopping to chat on their mobile, or using it to show someone goods they may or may not choose to buy.

Some examples from yesterday.

Woman about 50 years old, six feet in front of me, with an almost empty trolley, making no attempt to shop.

“Yes, and did you hear about Mike? Yes, that Mike, Val’s husband. Well Val phoned me when I was in Morrison’s earlier, and Mike’s home from hospital. He was in for two days, and Val was sure he had it. Yes, -it- the virus. But it turned out it was just a flare-up of his asthma. Oh, okay, ring me back when you have answered the door”.

So she had already been in another supermarket that day. So much for essential shopping. I didn’t wait for her friend to ring back, just walked past her and picked up the milk I needed, as she eyed me nervously for breaking the six feet rule.

Forty-something woman on some version of Live-Chat. On speaker, so I could hear both conversations. She was blocking the whole row of fresh chickens, chatting to her daughter.

“I dunno, Mum. Show me it again. Duck legs? Is that like chicken legs, or that duck we have in pancakes from the Chinese? Dunno if I want duck legs, Mum. Show me something else. Oh yeah, those barbecued wings look nice, but get two boxes coz Danny will eat one of those on his own.”

I decided not to wait to find out what else Danny wanted, and leaned over the oblivious woman to select a chicken.

Young woman in the new-style checkout queue that was snaking around almost the entire back wall of the store. She was dressed as if going to a night-club, though it was 4:30 in the afternoon, with painted on eyebrows making her look like Groucho Marx. She had only four items in her trolley.

“I tell ya, this F-ing queue in Tesco’s is a joke. If it doesn’t move soon I’m just gonna dump this F-ing trolley and walk out. Some of these people have got like trolleys full of stuff, you wouldn’t believe how much shit they have bought. No wonder there are so many fat cows in town”.

She seemed to be unaware of her own size, which was at least a size 20. And she was seemingly unaware of the fact that the queue was actually moving quite quickly in front of her. She preferred to stay where she was, complaining to her friend that it wasn’t moving.

There were more, but you get the idea.


We have all seen them. The people who go all the way down the empty lane in a road restriction, then try to pull over into the traffic stream by bullying some unlucky driver at the head of the queue. Or the lurker who waits nowhere near the bus stop, then tries to jump on first as soon as the bus doors open.

They feel ‘entitled’ somehow. They think they are better than the patient drivers, or the bus passengers who obey the rules of decency and good social beaviour. There are countless other examples of course, but you get the idea.

The current Covid-19 crisis is showing up many of those ‘entitled’ people who might not normally surface. Those who bought every single roll of toilet paper in the shop, even though they knew it would leave others short. Then the hand-sanitizer and liquid soap hoarders who didn’t give a fig about those others who would have nothing to clean their hands with. The same people who then decided to start getting their groceries delivered online, even though they were capable of driving to the shops. They didn’t care about all the elderly or disabled people, the wheelchair users, or housebound shoppers who relied 100% on deliveries from supermarkets.

They were entitled to order online, so they did.

I have been lucky to have escaped many of the excesses of entitlement behaviour, living in a small village four miles from a relatively small town. But even here, it exists. In a half-empty supermarket car park, some will still park in the Disabled Bays close to the front of the shop. The system of having to wait to be allowed in means they don’t get in any faster, but they still snaffle the disabled spaces anyway. Because they can. Because they feel entitled to do so.

Once in the huge supermarket, with a fraction of the normal number of shoppers in store, they continue to be entitled. To be entitled to completely ignore the one-way system instigated by the supermarket. Ignore the signs and the huge arrows on the floor, and just walk up and down the aisles as it suits them. Ignore the lines that tell you to keep six feet apart, and just reach across you to grab what they need. They feel entitled to do that of course.

Then there is the new checkout system. You have to queue patiently along the back wall, until you get to the supervisor at the front. She tells you what number checkout to go to, and you head up to what will be an empty checkout conveyor, with the operator ready to serve you. It’s a fair system, and works very well. I even told the supervisor that the manager should keep it in after the current crisis. Like that will ever happen.

But that system doesn’t work, if you are one of the entitled. It doesn’t even compute in the brains of those despicable people.

No, they have to sneak up the aisle that leads to the head of the queue. Then wait until the supervisor is distracted, move the plastic barrier, then shove their trolley in front of yours. If they choose their target carefully, then perhaps a frightened old lady or distracted family shopper might just think that they don’t want the hassle of arguing, and let them push in. They won’t say ‘thank you’ of course, because they are entitled to push in.

They know that, so you should too.

Thankfully, it doesn’t always work. Yesterday, a 60-something female shopper with an overloaded trolley made an attempt to move the barrier, and push in front of the man ahead of me. He seemed not to notice, but the supervisor did. The entitled woman was not geting away with anything once this determined employee tackled her. At first she feigned ignorance, claiming not to be aware of the queue. When she was told to turn around and join the back of it, she then complained of having a painful hip, and that she would be unable to stand for long enough to get back to where she already was. None of that washed with the supervisor. She told Mrs Entitlement to either join the queue, or leave the shop without her shopping trolley full of stuff.

Then the woman became verbally abusive to the supervisor, claiming to have been abused and persecuted. Moments later, a security guard arrived. He pulled the trolley away from the woman, and said she could either leave the shop of her own accord, or he would call the police.

Sometimes, ‘The Entitled’ don’t win. Those days are the best days.

Ghost Town

I am just back from a trip to my nearest large town, Dereham. This market town is the fifth largest in Norfolk, with a poulation of around 14,000. I was heading for the big Tesco Supermarket on the outskirts, to get a weekly shop. With most other town shops closed, the place felt deserted. School closures meant that the late afternoon school run traffic was nonexistent, and with the exception of the few town centre shops selling food, every other shop was closed up, and in some cases, shuttered.

Compared to a normal Monday afternoon, it felt like driving around in a ghost town.

Once at the supermarket, new restrictions are in place. A large section of the car park is closed off by barriers, enforcing a strict one-way queueing system to get into the shop. One customer only at a time, one trolley, and one total transaction. Inside, it feels strange. Not only were there few customers, perhaps a quarter of what I would usually see at this time, but the aisles were closed off at each end, enforcing another one-way system for shoppers.

Most things were available, with the exception of dried pasta. (I buy fresh anyway, and they had that) There was only one type of eggs available, an expensive blue-shell variety. Medicines like Paracetamol and Antihistamine were not in stock, but there was plenty of bread, meat, vegetables, and fresh fruit. There were also toilet rolls, and paper kitchen towels, as well as anti-bacterial sprays, and most cleaning products.

Sadly, I sensed an element of profiteering in the prices. Whether the supermarkets are having to pay more to secure the goods, or they are trying to make up for the lack of sales now panic buying has slowed, I don’t know. But there were almost no ‘special offers’, and a four pack of toilet rolls, costing £2 only two weeks ago was now £3. That’s a huge percentage increase, in a product people are still trying to buy. Fortunately, I didn’t need any, and they were restricted to one pack per customer.

On the way home, during what passes for the ‘rush hour’ around here, there was less traffic than early on a Sunday morning.

Perhaps people are finally ‘getting it’? I hope so.


One of my earliest memories of writing is of compiling lists. Ever since I wrote my first present list for Santa, and watched as it came out of the chimney after being burned on the fire, I have been a person who makes lists.

When I was old enough to realise that there was no Santa, I would still make a list, for the attention of my parents. I would turn down the corners of pages in my Mum’s catalogue, then leave a list in the front with my toys of preference listed in order.

Then when I was at senior school, and started to get home-work, I would write myself a list of what needed to be done by Sunday night, and tick off each subject as it was completed.

Becoming a shopper resulted in the making of numerous lists too. I would research things like cars, and make a list of my chosen models, intending to test drive each one before deciding which to buy. For everyday grocery shopping, I wrote out a paper list, and stuck to it as I wandered around the shop. That is something I still do to this day. In fact, I wrote out a shopping list for the supermarket shop tomorrow, earlier today.

Buying presents for others meant making lists. I would add the name, and write next to that what I intended to get them, or had already bought. Once the things had been purchased, I would strike through the name, to remind myself it had been done. The same applied to Christmas cards, with incredibly long lists of names in the days when I used to send out well over one hundred cards.

The advance of technology means that not so many people write lists anymore. But there are millions of them online. Lists of Top Tens, lists of things people hate, and just as many about what they love. I have an Amazon Wish list, something to remind me of films or books I might want to purchase someday, although I have not yet succumbed to having lists on my mobile phone, or on memo pages on the computer..

Sixty years of making lists, and sticking to them, may make me sound very organised, and rather obsessive. The truth is, the opposite is true. If I don’t have lists, I forget things, it’s as easy as that. I found myself in a shop last week with a tiny list, jotted down on a small post-it-note. All that was on it were the words ‘Milk’, Bread’, and ‘Wine’. Surely, anyone could remember just three things?

I promise you, without that list, I would have forgotten something.

Let me know if you make lists. You can even list your lists, if you want to. 🙂