Rage against the machine

Ahhh, the self-service checkout. It may reduce the queues in shops, but adds an extra frisson of possible frustration thanks to its many eccentricities. I have no quibbles with being made to wait for a cashier to check my age when buying booze, but repeated proclamations of “unexpected item in the bagging area” is liable to do my head in (especially when in the already volatile environs of Old Kent Road Asda) when all I’m trying to do is save the planet by using reusable bags…

I’ve just returned from that most Sunday of pursuits, a visit to a DIY store. My local B&Q always manages to conspire against me. I am actually quite a competent DIYer – I can paint a room, change a light bulb, wire a plug, help lay laminate flooring and screw almost anything(!)… But, every time I need to purchase a random DIY object, it’s nowhere to be found and I’m left looking like a helpless female having to ask for help in an alien environment. Today was particularly annoying as I knew exactly what I needed (the bit that connects a toilet flush handle to the actual flushing mechanism within the cistern) but couldn’t see it – on asking for help it emerged that other things had been placed in front of it, so not my fault at all. [I also felt judged as I was wearing my most girly of shoes – the red patent beauties.]

Once I’d acquired what I required, I headed to the self-service checkout, where I had the good fortune to witness a moment of wonderful rage against the checkout machine – thankfully not of my own making.

Just ahead of me in the queue was a man buying two boxes of tiles. He dutifully scanned them using the hand-held scanner (a sensible device used in places like B&Q and Ikea so you don’t have to lift up heavy items) and then looked surprised when the machine said “please place the item in the bagging area”. His (logical) response was to say (outloud and in a very middle class accent) “For f*ck’s sake! I can’t lift them up – they’re too heavy”. [This is what initally attracted my attention – a fully grown man, talking to both himself and a machine, in public, in front of several strangers – respect!]

He then did what any sensible person would do (if the one staff-member manning the self-service area is nowhere to be found) – he put his foot up onto the bagging area and leaned, clearly in the hope that it would register some kind of object, but to no avail. Then he attempted to lift the boxes, directing cries of “you tw*t” at the machines. Finally, the objects were in the bagging area, with an exclamation of “happy now? You f*cking useless machine?!”.

Poor man, I did feel for him – all the while trying to keep the grin on my face from being too obvious. It did strike me as the kind of thing that would not be out of place in an episode of middle-class family favourite sitcom Outnumbered.

The moral of the story? When man is pitted against machine, man rarely wins. Or, when buying boxes of tiles at B&Q it’s probably better to go through a manned checkout with a bit of queue than trying to avoid the queue by going self-service…


  1. Now there’s a perfect candidate for an easily-misunderstood Facebook status: “Liz Clutterbuck can screw almost anything…”

  2. I pondered several variations on that theme…
    Maybe I’ll find an appropriate context in which to use that on Facebook sometime.

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