Saturday 20 August 2016


I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help myself. I’m not usually a sadist. If anything I tend more towards the love and peace brigade, yet right now I’m torturing a woman and thoroughly enjoying myself.

There's nothing physical about my minor act of evil. She’s not planted under a bamboo seedling that will grow up through her body overnight. My attack is purely psychological, and to be honest, cutting through my dark pleasure is a bright streak of embarrassment.

I can’t believe I’m really behaving like this, but equally I’m utterly fascinated by the terror a small piece of plastic can instill in your average Irish person.

Finally, I relent, reach for little placcy divider and place it on the conveyor belt at the back of my shopping.

Herself waiting behind me in the checkout queue at Dunnes breathes a massive sigh of relief.

"Thank you!" she whispers under her breath.

I’d been dying to see how long she could last when her eyes were confronted by several feet of empty black conveyor belt, but no placcy divider.

What is it about that supermarket divider that terrifies Irish people?

Solid mothers of five who drive small tanks and run successful businesses from their homes shrink with fear when presented with the edge of somebody else's shopping.

Yes, we all need our personal space to survive the challenges of modern life and manners are wonderful things. As in my native England, here in Ireland society tacitly requires a certain level of politeness to be observed.

All that suits me down to the ground, but once there's half a foot of black plastic between the arse end of my box of eggs and beginning of your packet of nappies, it's pretty bloomin’ unlikely that the cashier will suddenly reach across the void, grab your shopping and charge it to my bill.

God forbid, even if they did, what's the worst that can happen?
We might be forced to look each other in the eye, act like social animals, and explain that a mistake had been made.

Still you wait. 

Even when there’s a completely empty conveyor belt stretching before you ...

... you wait.

You wait until that impolite man (of course he’s a man so he’d know no better) plays the game and gives you the divider.

Hurried, stressed and impatient, all people wait as calmly as their raging blood pressures allow for the placcy divider, holding their breath, arms folded at the chest, as if their very lives were under threat.

I've even seen some people piling their shopping into a tower on the metal far end of the counter, waiting waiting for the moment when - Oooh! Oooh yeh that’s so good! - their pent-up release comes, as the divider hits the belt.

Is this behaviour an obscure expression of anal retention? Is all this holding back really about the self-imposed delaying of your moment of pleasure?

Doubt it. As far as erotic environments go, the supermarket checkout queue has the sexual allure of dung beetles and the sensuality of soggy white bread in the sink.

Is there an unwritten book of supermarket etiquette? Why are people being so ridiculously considerate about such a minor issue, when they’ll quite happily park their  SUV across two spaces outside the supermarket?

They won't let their fish fingers stray within a divider-less foot of your organic beetroot, but they won’t think twice about talking to their friend all the way through the film when they sit next to you in the cinema.

If it's not down to manners or respect perhaps it's pure snobbery. Does Moddim in the Moon's overcoat fear that her superior brands might fraternise in some dirty way with my common as muck essentials? 

Does she shudder at the mere thought of her luxury indulgences being soiled by sitting too close to my Goodfellas frozen pizza?

Will the goodness of her biodynamic aubergine be denigrated by the nearby presence of my Denny sausages?

It’s more complex than that, as this fear of divider-free black belt crosses all economic thresholds. Makes no difference if the bloke behind is disappearing under mountains of generic value family packs, or standing nervously in line with a hand basket carrying only a little prosciutto and confit de canard.

Rich or poor, male or female: you're all scared to the point of pooping by the thought of sharing your shopping.

As a blow-in I might be ignorant of a dark day in Irish history when a riot started in a supermarket. Not so much the Massacre of Vinegar Hill as the Slaughter of the Celeriacs or the The Great Gluten Free Disaster of ’77.

The sad truth is that we define ourselves - our characters, our social standing, our self respect - by what is in our supermarket trolleys.

Tell me that you’ve never cast a critical eye over what your fellow humans pick up for their weekly shop.

What are they going to do with that muck? Yucketty yuk yuk! Glad I don't live in their home! That toilet paper tears badly, and that cleaner is bad for the environment, and I don't like those crackers, way too salty, and look at all that meat! Heart attack coming up for you, no doubt. Didn't you ever hear of fruit and veg, pal?

I just have to accept that I’ll never understand this deep-seated Irish fear of groceries becoming mixed up. 

Do you really believe that your Shredded Wheat being six inches from my Pantene ProV will change your fingerprints?

©Charlie Adley

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