Saturday, 28 January 2012

At last! A thumbs-up for a Malmesbury business

Malmesbury, the town that taste forgot, is the closest thing we have to a commercial centre, although I use the term ‘commercial centre’ loosely. It’s seldom that anyone from our valley returns from a trip to Malmesbury – where we have to go for medicines, since there’s no pharmacy in either of our twin villages; and periodically for supplies, since both our retail outlets (again, a term loosely used) make up in expense for what they lack in stock – without their lives having been considerably shortened.

Malmesbury boasts three large supermarket outlets: a Shoprite Checkers, a Pick n Pay and a SuperSpar. I was, for many years, a committed Pick n Pay shopper, partly because it’s the supermarket my mother always shopped at, and partly because, at least in the earlier years, the Malmesbury Pick n Pay did actually stock most of what I needed. And when they didn’t have what I was looking for, they’d find it for me. This often resulted in charming miscommunications, two of which stand out in my mind – once when I was looking for capers, and the second time for poppadoms. Take into account the language (English/Afrikaans) and cultural (urban/rural) divide, and you’ll get an idea of the problem. How does one describe capers and poppadoms? I tried ‘a kind of edible pickled flower’ and ‘a thin Indian bread that goes crispy when you fry it’, without any luck. Both times, after much fruitless discussion and a rousing round of charades, I was asked to simply write the name of the ingredient on a piece of paper, and the next time I went in, they’d found it for me. (Also, I once won a washing machine in a competition they ran.)

But let’s just get Pick n Pay out of the way immediately: it was recently taken over as a franchise and, although I’ve since shopped there once or twice out of loyalty, it’s never been the same.

Then there’s the Shoprite Checkers, until a few years ago a rather tacky OK. Then they did a huge revamp which included a (presumably massively expensive) redesign of the store itself, which resulted largely in gratifyingly wide aisles. The revamp didn’t, however, extend to the staff, an unfortunate oversight. Still, I like to go there sometimes, just for a change and perhaps because I have some sort of sado-masochistic streak that requires occasional indulgence.

So last week that’s where I went, with a long shopping list in hand. I’m going to gloss over some of the smaller irritations and go straight to the big one, which serves as a perfect example. On my shopping list was ricotta cheese. Shoprite Checkers boasts ‘more than 400 cheeses to choose from at ourCheese World!’ so an expectation of ricotta cheese wasn’t unreasonable. I looked through the cheeses on offer (there weren’t 400, or at least not 400 different ones) but couldn’t find ricotta. And then I went through a ritual that many people from our valley go through every time they visit Checkers (or Pick n Pay) in Malmesbury. It goes like this:

1. You ask a passing person in a Checkers uniform if they have ricotta cheese. They say, ‘This isn’t my aisle. I’ll go and get the right person.’ They walk off.

2. You hang out around the cheese section for about 5 minutes, during which time nobody turns up. You ask another passing person in a Checkers uniform, and they say, ‘This isn’t my aisle. I’ll go and get the right person,’ and you say, ‘Somebody’s already done that. Where is the right person? Should I go and get her? Or can’t you just help me?’ They ignore you and walk off.

3. You hang out for another 5 minutes until somebody in a Checkers uniform comes and stands next to you. She says nothing, but finally you twig that this is the right person (apparently), and you say, ‘Do you have ricotta cheese?’

4. Although you’ve already looked through all the cheeses on offer, and know there’s no ricotta cheese there, she then carefully looks through all of them again. You say, ‘I’ve already looked, it’s not there. Do you have some in the back?’ She ignores you and continues to search. This takes another 5 minutes.

5. Triumphantly, she hands you a tub of cottage cheese. You say, ‘No, not cottage cheese. Ricotta cheese.’

6. Another person arrives. Without any communication between them at all, the first person leaves. You say, ‘Oh, are you the right person? Ok, I’m looking for ricotta cheese. Do you have any?’

7. The second person begins another careful search of the cheese display. You clench your hands into fists so tight that you leave moon-shaped wounds in your palms and you say, ‘I’ve already looked, there’s no ricotta cheese there. Do you perhaps have any in the back?’

8. The second person triumphantly hands you a tub of cottage cheese. You say, ‘No. I. Do. Not. Want. Cottage. Cheese. I. Am. Looking. For. Ri. Cot. Ta. Cheese.’

9. The person snatches back the cottage cheese as if you’ve just spat on it and says, ‘No.’

10. You say, ‘What do you mean ‘‘no’’?’ Do you mean you don’t have it? How do you know? Have you checked your stock list? How can Checkers offer 400 cheeses but not have ricotta? What’s the matter with you people? Are you doing this just to annoy me? Is there a hidden camera somewhere?’ Then you either break down in tears or foam at the mouth.

The torture at Checkers in Malmesbury doesn’t end there. Once I’d got all I could find (about three-quarters of my shopping list – which, quite frankly, is as bad as nothing at all, if it means I have to go to another shop for the balance), I trundled my full trolley to a checkout. There, I had to queue – although there are 12 tills, only 3 were open. (My called request to a very, very fat manageress sitting at the ‘customer service’ – excuse me while I laugh my arse off – counter to open another till was roundly ignored.) Then, when my turn finally came around, I was observed in a lazy way by about 5 packers lounging against the cigarette counter* while I began unloading my trolley. As the items went through the barcode scanner and started piling up on the other side, I realised that nobody had the slightest intention of packing my groceries.

And last week, at Checkers in Malmesbury, that’s when I cracked. I stood up straight and yelled, ‘Stop!’ Everybody turned and looked at me – the other shoppers with surprise, the Checkers staff with bored loathing. I said, ‘I am not putting one more item through this till until one of you comes and helps me pack.’

It was an interesting stand-off because it was immediately clear that nobody wanted to do it. (Just to clarify things: these are packers, paid to pack.) Finally, after what seemed like a week, one of them disengaged herself from the cigarette kiosk; I fully expected to hear a *pop* as the vacuum seal between her butt and the counter was broken. She didn’t bother to hide her disdain of me and my groceries as she started packing, and when I asked her not to put all the tins in one bag (and I even explained that this was because it would make the bag too heavy to lift and probably break it, something I would assume was taught in Packing 101), she casually did exactly what I’d just asked her not to do, while occasionally shooting me challenging looks.

I left there with my life considerably shortened, and now I can finally come to the positive part of this post. I loaded my Checkers groceries into my boot (as I did so, the bag with the tins in it broke) and drove straight to SuperSpar. There, I found ricotta cheese at the cheese counter (also: anchovies, fresh basil, tinned Italian tomatoes, crème fraiche and short French loaves, among other things). All SuperSpar’s tills were open, and I didn’t have to queue. Two managers patrolled constantly, answering queries, responding to bells, stacking trollies, etc. The packer leapt into action, and packed sensibly; and she wheeled my trolley to my car for me, helped me unload into the car boot and wheeled the trolley back. (I realise this is so that the trollies aren’t left around the parking lot by customers, and thus aren’t stolen, but it’s still a nice touch.)

So, a big THANKYOU TO MALMESBURY SUPERSPAR!! And I put on record that while this excellent service is delivered to customers, I will never shop anywhere else in Malmesbury.

* On the subject of cigarettes, if you want to buy a carton of fags at Shoprite Checkers, ask for it when you arrive and before you start your shopping. If you don’t, and leave it until you get to the checkout, someone will be summoned from the other side of the shop, handed a key, and asked to fetch the carton, presumably from a storage facility in another town. This person will wander off as if she’s on a weekend ramble, stopping on the way to have a lengthy chat with the security guard at the front door. And the chances are very good, even if you’re patient and wait for 20 minutes, that you’ll never see her again.

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1 comment:

viki said...

Oh thank you! I laughed 'til I cried as we have much the same problem with our local thriving metropolis (right) of Zeerust, alas no redeeming SuperSpar though