At 12.24pm last Tuesday, Linda Carstairs slowed down as she pushed a fully-laden trolley down aisle 4 (ketchups, ethnic sauces, marinades) of the 24-hour Tesco hypermarket in Salford, Greater Manchester, and came to a halt, unable to go any further, opposite a display of Loyd Grossman cook-in sauces.
“I just couldn’t take another step”, Linda recalls. “It was like my feet were stuck to the floor. I was halfway through the weekly shop, on my way to aisle 5 to pick up a couple of ham & pineapple pizzas - they were on special offer that day - when this great weariness overwhelmed me. As I stood there, with my trolley loaded up with food and drink, nothing seemed to matter any more. The things that usually get me excited - a new flavour of spaghetti sauce, say, or a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer on potato waffles - seemed to lose all meaning.
“I tried to read the nutritional information on a pack of Tesco own-brand Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, but the list of vitamins and minerals - per spoon, per bowl, per skip - didn’t make any sense to me. And the serving suggestion - ‘pour into bowl, add milk’ - just rang hollow. Saturated fats? Unsaturated? Does anybody understand? Does anybody care?
“I saw some firelighters; the packet said ‘improved’, but how do you improve a firelighter? I’d put two bottles of Ajax liquid into the trolley. One, a green liquid, was ‘for kitchens; the other, blue, was ‘for bathrooms’. What was I thinking of? “I saw apples with stickers on. What’s that all about? You only have to peel them off. And that packet of ‘hand-cooked’ crisps, with the picture of a smiling farmer on the front, was made in an industrial estate outside Middlesborough. Suddenly, everything I’d believed in was starting to unravel.
“When Geoff got his promotion we decided the Carstairs family was ready to move up to Tesco’s ‘Finest’ range. It was a proud moment, for Geoff and me and the kids, like we’d ‘arrived’; we even put a small announcement in the local paper. After years of scrimping and saving, I really felt like the woman in the advert. Then, last Tuesday, shopping lost its sparkle for me.
“I couldn’t stand still for ever, of course, and eventually I managed to drag myself to the checkout. On the way, on aisle 12, I saw a special offer on L’Oreal hair-care products, and I rallied a bit. Who knows, maybe I am ‘worth it’ after all”...