Guest blog: my strange shopping trip

My strange lunchtime, by Joe, age 31 ¼

Skype bings; it’s my colleague. Let’s call him Tim. “What are you doing for lunch today?” he enquires.

This, believe it or not, is a tricky question. It’s loaded with all sorts of issues, like “Can I have a lift?” and the fact that our resident “special” programmer, let’s call him Theo, can’t drive at the moment due to a recently broken wrist.

The building we all work in has no provision for lunch, so you either bring your own or you go out and buy something. There is a slightly frightening herd behaviour in the company that exibits itself when no-one really cares what they have for lunch, so the first person who dares to express an opinion usually has a carful of people to accompany him.

I go out on a limb and say: “I need to do some shopping, so I’m going into Warwick town centre, where I’ll pick up a baked spud or something.”

Immediately, Tim pipes up with: “Great! I need to go to the bank, I’ll come with you!” He really does use that many exclaimation marks when he communicates. You can almost see them hovering in the air above his head, like a 1940s Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

Of course, there’s the issue that Theo can’t drive, so he’s got to come with us, or starve. And so that puts the three of us into Tim’s tiny wee Peugeot. Tim’s tiny car is needed because my car is full of about 20 thousand pounds’ worth of automation parts at the moment, in anticipation of an exciting week building electrical panels in the bowels of Birmingham next week.

We park, after an uneventful journey livened up with detailed explanations from Theo on absolutely everything he can see, think, smell or tangentially associate with at the moment.

We enter Sainsbury’s. I fear what is coming, for I have a list; and to accompany it I have an enthusiatic mocker, and a very special programmer who I suspect doesn’t get out in the real world that often.

“Tomatoes,” I say decisively, pointing halfway up the salad isle. After a brief inspection, Theo informs me that there are seven options for tomatoes, and that the best value per tomato is just here; pointing. He then goes on to assess the environmental aspect of the assocated tomato packaging, the relative hues and shapes of the assembled tomatoes, and then requests more information as to the intended purpose of my soon-to-be-owned tomatoes.

Tim sniggers, and starts questioning Theo as to the water content to taste ratio of the tomatoes, and asks me if I remembered to bring a flip-chart for Theo to continue his assessment. I’m already willing to gnaw my own hand off to prevent this scene from continuing, so I grab a pack of tomatoes and move on. Much to Theo’s chagrin, as the fruit that randomly ended up in the basket were neither the reddest, the cheapest, not the most
environmentally-soundly packaged.

Theo asks on what criteria I have selected these toms, and I pretend not to hear the question, choosing instead to head for the alcohol. Not just because it was on the list; I’m hopeful that somewhere in the aisles there will be an opened bottle of gin I can dive into.

As I glide deafly around the supermarket, I realise that Theo has read the list in my hand, and has grabbed a startled looking staff member to assist him in identifying where I might find the items I require.

This kind lady, Isobel, has very quickly realised that we are on some kind of outing, the purpose of which is to allow special people to gain some real world experience. She is talking very slowly and carefully, and she appears to be looking behind Theo, on the floor – presumably to see where he’s dropped his foam helmet.

I’m not honestly sure if I’ve been cast in the role of carer or inmate.

Tim has taken on the role of encouraging Theo every step of the way, thus: “What was next on the list, Theo?” and “Should we put the tomatoes at the bottom of the basket, or on top?” which Theo, oblivious to the mockery, answers earnestly and completely, while Isobel takes him by the arm, heading for the pine nuts.

“Here are the pine nuts, Theo,” she gently informs him, indicating the required shelf.

“PINE NUTS, JOE! ITEM SIX ON THE LIST!” he kindly shouts at me, as I take the packet.

This routine continues for the rest of the list, with Isobel earning a special gold star when I hear her listening carefully to Theo describing how much better his custard is (last item on the list) when compared to shop-bought custard. He goes on to describe the ingredients, the method of combining them, the fact that Mr Birdseye doesn’t actually make custard, he makes something that approximates custard, which he discovered while trying to help his wife with an egg intolerance. Mr Birdseye’s wife, that is. Not Theo’s. He’s single; I know that will come as a surprise.

It’s one of his favourite stories, and he tells it in great detail. Very great detail. All the way from aisle three (fruit juice) to aisle 11 (desserts).

Wearily, I pay for my goods, say “goodbye”to Isobel (who has escorted us all the way to the door) and leave, hoping to never return in this company.

Tim has had a fantastic time; asking for more detail, listening intently, taking on the role of enthusiastic carer. I fear I may have been percieved as the sullen one; not smiling, probably preparing to bang my head on the wall and start screaming. It’s not that far from the truth.

This is not an unusual lunchtime. Well, not for me.

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