Monday, 28 March 2016

Grocery shopping

I have to change the way I shop for groceries. This will be made easier by some other domestic changes we made recently, here in our shared house. Because the Badger is now home full-time, the rhythms and requirements of our home life changed too.

You might remember my little room and the wardrobe the Badger made me? Well, this is what it looks like now. He and I have it for our own little kitchen.

We share his attic for our living accommodation.

To the right of the guitar, the Badger is going to build a place for my clothes to hang (his hang under the eaves). At the moment they are hanging on pot hooks screwed into the wall in the place where we sleep (you can see through the doorway). 

I can only show half where we sleep because the space is very little. We sleep on the floor; the space is bed-sized.

Black thing with pointy ears in foreground is our cat Miguel sleeping, not my discarded PJs.

So, though we still source many household commodities in common with the other people in the house – and are comfortable with lots of cheerful sharing – the Badger and I now source some food for just the two of us.

That has made it easier (in principle) to source his and my food from the small shops, as we no longer need to shop at places where there’s a big choice. All of us still go to the wholefood co-op, of course, but otherwise we mainly go to one of three big grocery chains, where there are special offers etc.

However, I’d just got used to shopping where I always shop, so I didn’t do anything different when things changed at home. I didn't make a new habit of going to the small shops

Then this happened:
I was in a big grocery chain outlet, queuing up at the checkout to pay for my food selection on Good Friday. Behind me was a small old lady in a headscarf, shuffling and dithering and turning round in small circles muttering to the woman behind her. At first I didn’t pay too much attention because I assumed maybe she just had a neurological condition. I assumed she was with the woman she was talking to. Then I tuned in to what she was saying – that she couldn’t remember the PIN for her bank card to pay for her goods.

As I paid closer attention, I realized what had happened. She’d gone through once, got the PIN wrong, and the cashier let her come back for another try. The cashier also let her keep with her the goods all packed up in her shopping bag, and I was glad to see that trust and kindness.

As she had the bag all ready, I suggested she go in front of me, since I had many items to check out. She was grateful to do that, the cashier got the ticket ready, and the shopper tried again. She got the PIN wrong again. Her face all pale and distorted with worry, she kept saying ‘What am I going to do? I’ll have to put it all back.’

The public holiday weekend was ahead of us, she had guests coming, the banks were shut for Good Friday – so, no way to access cash without her PIN.

The cashier was very kind and gentle, soothing – sent her to sit down quietly on a seat nearby to try to remember. As I checked out my own shopping, the cashier had a bright idea – their instore ATM offers a ‘change PIN’ facility. No. Not without first entering the PIN you already have.

That particular story ended happily and the old lady was okay (I knew you’d need to know this to concentrate on anything else). It got sorted out.

But it made me think.

One of the things I love about weddings is the sense of convergence as people prepare (bear with me, this is not the complete change of topic it seems to be). Guests coming from overseas, the bride getting ready at home, the groom at his home. The minister, the organist, the bridesmaids, the chapel steward – everybody setting off each according to their appropriate timing, all to be there in the same place at the right moment.

I realized something similar had happened about that old lady’s grocery shopping.

First stores got bigger and chain stores emerged. So, smaller family grocers went out of business - like the cheese shop and the greengrocers in Hastings Old Town. In the new big chain stores, unlike the old family stores, you couldn’t get goods on tick, and the staff neither knew you nor had the power to let you go home with goods not paid for, on a promise to come back on Tuesday with the money once the banks had opened and you’d had chance to resolve the problem.

Then the banks became more centralized, and more dependent on codes, plastic cards, online services and PINs. Most local high street branches disappeared; for old people who were not internet savvy . . . er . . . tough.

Then cheques were no longer accepted for payments.

Then signing a till receipt and matching it against your bank card signature was stopped. Now, you had to remember the PIN.

In the new banks and chain stores, rules and procedures determined centrally applied. Nobody was empowered to let you go home and pay later.

[A similar thing happened in the libraries – when my previous (deceased) husband Bernard went to join Rye library, the staff member at the counter said he must provide ID. He stared at her in bewilderment. ‘ID?’ he said. ‘But . . . Ida, you went to school with me!’
‘Even so,’ she said, ‘I have to see evidence of your identity.’]

And it occurred to me, all these small, incremental moves towards centralization and aggrandization had culminated, like guests converging on a wedding, in this one moment ~ a little, pale, worried, anxious, disempowered old lady whose memory was going, reduced to shuffling and muttering in shame and terror, with no way to get her hospitality food for the weekend.

And I say, it stinks.

Convenient? Accessible? Efficient? Economical? Smooth to run? Yes – until you are the old lady.

Today, I checked out the times of the next Hastings Farmers Market. Mind you – to be fair – they wouldn’t let you take your loot on tick at the Farmer’s Market either. And neighbourhood communities are now so dispersed and fragmented and anonymous, they wouldn’t know you from Adam anyway. And the Farmers Market people aren't especially kind - probably not even as kind as the cashier in the chain store. But at least you’d know in advance you needed to take cash with you, and at least they’d have the power to sort the problem out if they wanted to.

Some of my shopping - like the meat, the really excellent sauerkraut and the equally excellent goats' milk kefir I get - I can source only online; and that suits me. I'm not an old lady who can't manage a computer, I know my PIN, and I am intensely introverted so handling the camaraderie of old-style shopping makes me nervous and tired. But I still think I'll be sorry if I just let the world be absorbed by machines and conglomerates.


gretchen said...

neat, pen! i'm always so impressed by your creativity in both your living space and how you live your life. as for that poor little old lady . . . the same holds true here in iowa. we used to be a state of small towns, villages really, where everyone knew you and you could have a running tab at the grocer's which you paid once a month or so. now everything is plastic, PIN numbers and anonymity. give me a good small town where no one needs to use turn signals since everyone knows where you're going anyway.

Ganeida said...

Just last week I needed rolls from the bakery. My 1/2 dozen came to a whole $2.50 but the minimum on my card had to be $10~ & I had no cash with me. The lovely lady let me have them on tick ~ something our local IGA wouldn't do. I made sure I popped in & paid promptly the next working day as that sort of old fashioned service should be rewarded, not taken advantage of.

Pen Wilcock said...

I love that about the turn signals, Gretchen! Reminds me of my auntie, who lives in a tiny Yorkshire village. She'd been driving about 20 years. One day their local policeman called into the farm to see her. He'd come to explain that as he'd be retiring soon, a new man would be coming so she ought to take a driving test if she wanted to carry on driving . . .

Hooray for your bakery, Ganeida! That's how it should be. x

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

I have three bank accounts and I find it hard to remember all the PIN numbers, let alone someone maybe twenty years older than me.
I'm tending to go to the bank and draw out cash more and more these days, rather than use my cards in local shops. Buying things online is much easier :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - I find it easier to stick to the budget if I draw out the cash, too.

Stevie said...

All the light! Oh my, doesn't it just make your heart soar to head upstairs on a sunny day, or to get out of bed because the sun is in your eyes in the morning? I love your new abode...

And I'm thinking that as often as I use my debit card (requiring PIN), I might oughta change it to something I can remember better. I only use it for gasoline.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Yes - I crave light! I like to pull my little green chaise longue (in the pics) under the skylight, open it wide and stand looking at the rooftops and the birds. it's lovely to wake up looking at clouds and birds swooping over, and go to sleep looking at the stars. x

Suze said...

I related to this story. Many years ago I surgery that went very wrong and I lost a huge amount of blood. I won't go into the full story but in short because of my age no one wanted to transfuse me. I was severely anaemic for over a year. To my horror every number I had in my head disappeared. I have nver every remembered those codes. It was a pretty major deal at the time.

Pen Wilcock said...

I can imagine! Yes, technological *options* are brilliant, but a technological *society* disempowers all round. x

Jen KnowingTheLight said...

There is also the issue of money - when I was working in technology 16 years ago I wrote of a potential broadband divide - the haves and have nots.

When I was studying not so long ago I applied for shop work - low paid shop work. I had to fill out the form online. I had to wait for an email. Then fill out another form online. It took me forever to do this and I am technologically adept. I repeat, this is for low paid shop work. What if I didn't have broadband at home? I would have to go to the library (which of course, is facing cuts) and put my name down for a computer, which can get very busy. That would have taken significant time and energy.


Anyway. How are you finding sharing your space, how is it going from a working point of view, you did all of your work in your little space I recall..... has Badger being home greatly changed this?

Pen Wilcock said...

The answer to that was 'yes', but I deleted Jen' and my last two comments as, on reflection, I thought them better suited to a private chat than to public comments.

BLD in MT said...

I trust all the changes and adjustments will shake out well--what a transformation in your little room! It can be very nice to have a kitchen of one's own in a shared living situation. Your new digs in the attic with the Badger seem charming and well suited to you.

As to the rest--I already grow weary of all the pins and passwords I must know to pay my bills and access my accounts. Its crazy. I can only imagine how it will progress....

And I've been offered free identity theft protection for the last three years because of three different organizations (some governmental, some private) getting hacked and having security breeches. It does not inspire hope about this way we're going, automated and dehumanized.

I hope you enjoy more time with the Badger at home!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Pilgrim said...

Yes, these big stores have become disturbingly powerful and impersonal. It's as hard for the employees as the customers, from what I can tell.b sonsad about that elderly oady. That could be me, one of these days.

Pen Wilcock said...

Indeed. People were born to be something better than the parts of huge impersonal machinery. Reclaiming the human is precisely a Gospel task.

Nearly Martha said...

I my work, I serve lots of the elderly. The banks' decision to pull out of cheque payments (which I believe has been deferred rather than cancelled altogether) left many of them bewildered. They can't handle cash machines, they can't see where to put PINs in. It is becoming harder to keep a sense of vigilant community alive where the elderly live within their own capabilities most of the time, but with watchful people round and about them if they are needed. Most elderly don't want to depend on people but we can't keep moving the goalposts so they need to ask others about money, shopping, watching the telly etc because everything has moved on and we haven't left proper provision for them behind us. Long rant that. Sorry

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. Our infra-structure becoming more youth-centric? Or just more technical?