Monday, 30 August 2010


Apparently, over the last four years, we Scots have used four billion fewer plastic bags. This is good news because there was great debate at one time about HOW to persuade the public to wean themselves of placky bags...surely a lack of bags might deter the shopper from spending, and the economy would suffer? On the other hand, we use far too many bags, they are a nuisance, cause litter and do not the Members of our Scottish Parliament, the MSPs, debated long and hard about whether or not to impose a ban on free bags. In the end, they rejected the idea.

Doom and gloom was predicted, with people saying this was a lost opportunity, shoppers wouldn’t like it and litter would continue to increase. But, we have proved the doom-merchants wrong. Which just goes to show, we’re not the small-minded dimwits some people might think.

I suspect the MSPs knew that occasionally it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks, that once in a while, you don’t have to patronize a population to make them behave....I reckon most Scots, at least any Scot who respects and cares for their own nation, is only too delighted to adapt and change the habits of a lifetime. Having to remember your own bags is rather a pleasing and satisfying task, making us feel like good citizens and allowing us to pat ourselves on the back.

BUT...what HAS been driving us all mad is the Voice in the Machine.

Let me explain. You have your jute shopping bags ready to be filled, you have selected a trolley-load of shopping, you head towards the checkout and see that the queues are long and slow. Ah-ha, you say as your eye spots a vacant checkout machine....I’ll just use that instead of a human.

You approach with slight trepidation, but think that it’s about time you grew up and stepped into 2010. You press a big round button.

‘Place your bag in the loading bay,’ says some woman who must be hiding in the machine. Clearly she’s gathered you’re perplexed...perhaps she’ll help, although she sounds a wee bit fierce. You stash your environmentally-sound jute bags on a small metal shelf, expecting her to say,

‘Not there, you fool....duh, don’t you have eyes?’

But she doesn’t. A button flashes instead, so you press that, simply because you can’t think of anything else to do right then. A line-drawing of a hand holding a turnip appears. The turnip is ‘shown’ to a screen. But you don’t have a turnip in your trolley. Failed.

You decide to try a packet of breakfast cereal and show it to your machine for approval. Nothing happens. You wave it about a bit. Nothing. You twirl it around a little and PING.

‘Please place the item in the bag,’ says Bossy Wifey.

Good plan, you think as you find a bunch of bananas in your trolley. PING.

‘Please place the item in the bag,’ she says again.

‘OK, OK I get the drift,’ you tell her, grabbing a carton of fruit juice. PING.

‘Please place the item in the bag.’

‘You’re not seriously going to say that for all 142 items in the trolley are you?’Pancakes. PING.

‘Please place the item in the bag.’

Now you’re miffed. ‘Well now, Missus, there’s an idea. And I was just thinking I’d put them on my head and wear them up the High Street just for a lark.’ She’s not amused. Her voice doesn’t falter for a split second. Furniture polish. PING.

‘Please place the item in the bag.’

‘What happens if I don’t? I might go wild and stuff it under my oxter ...what then, huh?’ Shampoo. PING.

‘Please place the item in the bag.’

‘No. I’m going to squirt it down your jacksie and see how you like that, you bossy bisum.’

By the time you’ve got through all 142 items you’re about ready to thump her one...but you reckon she’s hard so it would hurt. You press a few more buttons, cough up the lolly, and wobble out of the shop feeling as though your brain has just been fried.

What I cannot fathom is this...if The Scottish Shopper is intelligent enough to remember to bring their own bags to the shop in the first place, to be trusted enough to park in a minute space without injury to other shoppers or nearby vehicles, to recycle their rubbish into the correct bins outside the shop before entering, to be able while shopping to plan several large meals while remembering four people’s birthdays, a couple of thank you pressies, a very specific stationary request from school, exactly the right sort of washing powder, and a paddling pool in case it’s ever hot again (we can fantasize, surely), why on earth does that woman in the machine think we are so incredibly THICK?


  1. Why is she there I wonder? Why couldn't it have been a man? Or was he too busy inventing this machine;)

  2. There are 2 factors at play here, perhaps. Factor 1 – institutional assumptions of the intelligence and competence of a “people”. In Britain this used to be “The Man on the Clapham Omnibus”…heavens knows what it is now??

    In Ikea, in Norway, they have self operated checkouts minus patronising voice. In fact no voice – they assume here you can read!!, but in case that’s not Norwegian, you can select English.

    Press the button to start, scan your items and put them where you want(!), press a button if you want bags (you always pay for bags in Norway), press to pay, stick your card in, pay and leave. Easy Peasy.

    As everything in Norway can be paid by card, the assumption is that everyone can use them. In fact the assumption in Norway is that you can ski, drive, run a home and a hytte, sail, cook, fish, climb mountains, go to school on your own in the dark aged five. In short the Norwegian collective assumption is “Competence”.

    The other factor might be politeness. In M&S recently, I was instructed “you can put your card in now”, “now can you type in your PIN number”, “you can take your card out now”. Whilst this appeared pretty patronising, I suspect it was polite customer service.

    The above leaves one to consider the case in America, where someone successfully sued a camper van company, when, after selecting cruise control, and went into the back to make a cup of coffee and were surprised that the van drove off the road!!

    Norman Scott

  3. Cath...good point!
    Norman....someone needs to do a thesis on whether or not modern technology is making us would probably be called 'differently-skilled' these days.

  4. The worst of these disembodied women is not your supermarket Bossy Wifey but Snotty Bitch who lives in my husbands laptop and every 60 minutes says in a tone of utter superciliousness 'Its three hours' (or whatever the time might be. She drives me mad, I have begged him to eliminate her but he refuses and she even moved into his new Apple mac last month. Do you think they are having an affair?