I was walking in the aisles of our local Asda the other day. It is quite a small supermarket and has no George clothing range to make the visit more interesting. Just a few sad racks of pants and socks. But it has the unmistakable Asda aura, that indefinable something that makes a shopping trip just that little bit less bearable. I had just popped in for a few stop-gap items before the next weekly shop, which we usually do in the Tesco five miles away.
Now I will apologise to all Asda staff in advance. What I am about to say does not have anything to do with you, most of the time. Everyone I ask a question of is very helpful, and I have only once had to interrupt a clearly vital conversation about someone’s intimate love life just to be pointed in the direction of the gravy granules. But am I the only person who comes out of an Asda feeling a veil of misery coming over me?
On the day in question I hadn’t got past the fruit and veg aisle before I was faced with a harassed mother trying in vain to control three children under ten , struggling with the weekly shop at the tail end of the school holidays. I hope she has found some peace at last.
Round the corner into the chilled section and there was, as in every supermarket, a bun fight over the reduced items. Here though real bargains seemed few and far between and hardly worth batting an old dear out of the way for. Sausage rolls with a ‘Whoops!’ sticker on them, suggesting you could have 10 for 50p if you could eat them all by morning; slightly squashed pots of extra creamy coleslaw and a few yoghurts. One glance from the back row of the scrum and I steered clear.
Drifting up and down a couple of peaceful rows of tinned things and pots of jam I came to the sweet aisle. ‘God’ teeth!’ I thought as I pushed past a group of spotty teens buying up for a sleepover (I imagined) – although if God ate the basket load of crap they had collected he would have a few fillings. Why do sweets that make little ones hyper fail to inject energy into 15 year olds? Only Justin Bieber making a personal appearance behind the ciggie counter would have shifted them. Eventually I made it to the back wall, along which is ranged a variety of breads and cakes. Our store is too small to have a bakery so everything is a bit pre-packed; but apart from there being no lovely smell of new baked loaves to disguise the scent of human fear that pervades every Asda in my experience, that isn’t a problem. However, on this day it was, apparently. A man and woman, presumably husband and wife, literally yelling at each other in an argument caused it seems by little more than a sliced white. Actually, I shouldn’t poke fun, it was not a laughing matter, for them anyway. It was actually like a scene from a 70’s sitcom – a stereotype of a 60 something hen-pecked husband and his domineering wife. Shame on you woman, for your behaviour in public and the language you were using!
By this time I had had enough, and hit the gin and vodka in a smash and grab raid (no, it’s OK I queued and paid…) and made a speedy exit. I felt tense and irritable. The weight of humanity’s problems bore heavily on my shoulders and I couldn’t wait to escape. OK I exaggerate as usual, but I was really glad I didn’t put myself through that every week.
So why does Asda have this effect when other supermarkets only leave you mildly irritable with loved ones and more willing to stop and browse the shelves in a relatively relaxed fashion? Is it the smell? The singularly unattractive black and lime green uniform? The big garish signs? Or is it because Asda is far less sneaky about the way it manipulates you into buying things you don’t need? ‘Come and get it – two for one on high fat items you can’t eat by the sell-by date’. A packet of salad for 50p because it will turn into mush in the bottom of the bag overnight. Could it be that where in other shops it is only when you unpack that you realise you have been hoodwinked into spending more than you need, whereas in Asda it hits you squarely between the eyes as soon as you walk in?
Does anyone like shopping at Asda? I am prepared to listen to alternative perspectives as always. But if we hate it, why do we shop there? Why do we let them think it is fine to sell milk at less than cost price, swindling farmers and customers alike? To pack their low fat or extra special products with large quantities of sugar? To slap their bums in the adverts as if that is where everyone keeps their small change?
I suspect it is just because it is there, and we can’t be bothered. What is an hour of aggravation, irritation and stress when the alternative is a two hour wander up the local high street? What indeed.