Run for the hills- Tesco have opened

And so, almost with stealth like cunning – if that’s possible when building a huge structure- and immaculate half term timing, Tesco have finally infiltrated the ring of steel around Bishop Auckland. The new store opened today, beating Sainsbury’s by a couple of days. Well you just knew they’d be first didn’t you.

To be honest I’d completely forgotten, or simply hadn’t noticed that two of the biggest names in Hallowe’en products (oh yes and food) have been racing each other to open first on sites so close you could stand on the roof of one and with a beautifully aimed throw, knock out the security guard standing outside the other with a frozen bap.  

Now take a step back  for a moment. What sort of madness is this? What has this run down town- dominated by pound shops and Greggs- done to deserve all this attention. Bishop Auckland already has two huge supermarkets- Asda and Morrisons. I do the shopping in this household and you can normally spin round both stores with the minimum of fuss, apart from all the mobility scooters cluttering up the chocolate and crisp aisles, and be home well in time for Countdown.

The answer is no-one seems to know. Mind you no-one’s really complaining. There’s jobs galore- if you like stacking tins of soup at four in the morning and being unpleasant to riff-raff.

So what impact has the arrival of the USS Tesco had on Asda- my personal store of choice? Frequent shoppers knew something was up two weeks ago when staff started smiling (a joke in case they are monitoring) and the entire Extra Special range (a cornucopia of fancy products regular Bishop Auckland shoppers could only previously dream of) was reduced by an eye-watering 25%. Now I’m not saying the tracksuited hordes started buying smoked salmon and a fine Sancerre, but change was in the air.

And the game was most definitely on this morning when I passed the time of day with operative Eileen at checkout 14. She raised the T word first. “I’m surprised we’re so busy this morning, Tescos opened today. Heard they opened their doors at midnight.” I confessed that as Tesco was generally an expensive alternative, the regular clientele wouldn’t budge. Price mattered in Bishop.

“Ah, but I bet loads have just gone for a look round.”

This struck me as unusual. I know what a supermarket looks like- aisles, food, lowpaid staff, checkouts, you get the drift. I thought perhaps it was time to re-evaluate my priotities in life if I decided on a whim to take the family to Tesco for a look round. Well I guess the kids are on holiday. And you can only go to the Vegas of the North- Darlington- so many times a month.

And then, to ensure my continuing devotion to Asda, she gave me £40. Well, that’s not strictly true, a book of vouchers valued at £40 (£4 off vodka! £1 off mince! – they know their customers priorities believe me). This is valid from the beginning of November which I suspect is after Sainsbury’s have opened and the pre-Christmas test of loyalty gets fully underway. I expect it to be messy. And so if it means they throw all sorts of inducements our way, bring it on.

And then I headed home. By Tesco. Well, it was rude not to.


Hate Mail

It is perhaps appropriate that on the day the boss of the Royal Mail jumps ship to ITV with the job only half done that I should experience some truly appalling customer service at my local Post Office to mark the occasion. I know he didn’t run the Post Office but for the purposes of this blog, he’ll do.

I am convinced your approach to filling in passport renewal forms mirrors your personality. Sloppy and carefree and it’s cruelly rejected; orderly and methodical and your form is accepted. That’s the way it is.

The forms are horrible. I have always been confused by them and have to give them my undivided attention. I have to really concentrate. Even the basic details such as spelling my own name bring me out in a cold sweat so anxious am I not to cross a line (literally) resulting in another 10 mile round trip to get another form. 

The whole process began at the weekend when I took the youngest to get his passport photos taken in the booth at The Asda.  I am saddened to report that the days of four individual photos (most with the chair at the wrong height creating an unsettling profile suggesting  dwarfism) and the inevitable ten minute wait outside the whiffy booth in a railway station for the slimy and smelly set of prints after much clunking and gurgling- are over.  

Nowadays electronic gizmos ensure your eyes are at the right level; there’s no choice of curtains and when you’re happy you press a button and that’s it. The lens clicks. Just once. And even then if you’re not happy you can have another go. And the wait for prints is less than a minute. Marvellous.

Then came the form filling. Spurning alcohol and in a quiet room upstairs I filled in all the sections relatively quickly (apart from having to nip to the family filing system to remind me the date of my marriage) and then dashed off to get it countersigned by a prominent local. My Doctor friend assured me she had completed  hundreds over the years and within a few minutes had done the necessary and signed the back of the photo. Job done.

And so to the Post Office. Joining a queue with as much personality and charisma as the collection area at Argos I was soon at the grille where the charmless operative scoured my form (remember I was paying for this ‘extra’). I was so confident of success I was writing out the cheque. But then a commotion behind the scenes. A hushed conversation. The form was passed back with the delightfully helpful  “nope, won’t do” from the mouth of the charmless one. There was no light in her eyes. I switched to full flirt mode in the hope of rescuing the occasion but it was a lost cause. There would be no compromise….or customer service for that matter.

It turns out that My Doctor friend had committed the cardinal sin of one of the letters she’d written crossing a line. And there it was. A ten mile journey, parking charges, petrol, hassle, standing next to a smelly couple in a queue …all for nothing.

And so I have to do it all again tomorrow.

I love this country and all its mad ways and I wish few people ill. But I hope something terrible happens to her. Perhaps winged by a bus outside Wilkos. Does this make me a bad person?

It Asda Be Dan Brown’s Day

A rare unsigned copy

A rare unsigned copy

There is nothing more dispiriting than being in a crowd. Any pride in being an individual (only dead fish go with the flow etc etc) is lost.  Such thoughts filled my head this morning when I found myself strangely drawn away from my usual route round Asda in Bishop Auckland. I tried to resist but a large group of shoppers had gathered round a display at the entrance to the store. Normally this can mean only thing…..bbq briquettes being sold for 25p a bag while the snow falls outside. But no, it was for a book.

Interest in literary matters is not something you expect from the sort of people I see shopping in superstores on a weekday morning. I do not wish to generalise but well…you know. Normally I have to hide in the healthy aisle to avoid the rush of mobility scooters driven by often very large people to get to the confectionary section (why why why).

The book is Dan Brown’s latest. The follow up to the Da Vinci Code. The global hype had arrived in Asda and so I resigned myself to snapping it up …for a fiver. Cover price £18.99. Quite a bargain.

So within 30 seconds of being in the store I’d spent £5 for something which I didn’t really need but felt I probably should have. And it was just sitting there. All shiny and new. 400 of them.

This is what annoys me about the modern shopping experience. Products are dangled in front of you in the most unexpected places. Well, of course their marketing people will have done their homework. To them they are in the most expected places.

And so that’s why I’d bought wine three aisles before the booze section and various cleaning implements for Mrs Vole shortly after negotiating the parsnips.

I am outraged, but will of course be back next week. Jordan’s latest paperback might be on sale.