Living Between the Lines

Are you being served?

Self service is not always what it is cracked up to be. Take yesterday morning for instance. On the way to visit my new grandson and his parents,  Zoe and I stopped at ‘Marks and Spencer’ to pick up a few supplies for lunch. Being just off the motorway, M&S would be a quick and easy place to stop we reasoned.

We gathered what we needed in record time. We loaded the goods into our basket and headed for the check-out.

“We may as well go through self-serve,” Zoe observed. I was, it has to be said, dubious. My experience of these ‘self-serve’ checkouts has never been good. I normally pick the one that has run out of bags or the one where the scales have jammed.  It can’t always be like that though can it?

“Well, ok,”  I agreed, having sized up the length of the queues at the manned check-outs and determined that the self-serve area was clear. We began scanning our few items through and dropping them into the bag. There were plenty of bags and the scales did not jam.

The screen blinked at us and gave us our bill, requesting that I put in my bank card. I did this. It frowned and demanded that I remove it.

I removed it.

The screen suggested I try again. I checked that the card was ok and pushed it back in.

“Not authorised,” the machine spat.

I looked at Zoe, we raised our eyebrows and the machine flashed again,

“Swipe your card and provide a signature,”

I obediently swiped the card and tried to write my signature on the Perspex box labelled, “Signature.”

“Please remove your card – card not authorised,” ranted the machine.

I removed the card and the screen lit up in excitement,

“Remote Assistance is underway,” (works best when read using the voice of a Dalek I feel)

Really? I looked around. I wondered why I had bothered.

A lady appeared, flustered and frowning and waving a bunch of keys.

“What’s the problem?” she demanded.

“It says, remote assistance is underway – I think that means you,” I tried helpfully. (She seemed pretty remote)

The lady nodded and we ran through the process again. It was no good, the machine did not like my card.

 A queue had formed behind me at this stage. The lady stood back and suggested we go to her own machine at the end of the aisle where she could put the goods through. We followed her dutifully.

The lady put in her key and began tapping a keypad on her touch-screen to login. The screen flickered and died. She banged it with her fingers several times. The screen blinked and came back to life. A second lady appeared.

“What’s wrong?” she enquired, summing up the situation quite quickly and attempting to login herself. I glanced at my watch. New grandson would be starting school if they didn’t hurry up!

A third lady came to look but thought better of it. She called out something and left. The first lady must have caught what she said because she banged the reluctant screen a few more times and was finally allowed in.

The lady swiped our goods again (with difficulty as her swipe machine seemed to be lodged behind the screen and wouldn’t move) Bags of crisps and sandwiches were forced through the gap so that their bar code could be detected. Several items went through twice and had to be cancelled along the way.

The total flashed up and, miraculously, seemed to match the earlier one we had been given. She smiled, triumphant.

“How would you like to pay?”

“Cash definitely, cash!” I said.

The lady laughed, her sense of humour restored. We paid and made our escape.

It had only taken fifteen minutes to get through the ‘self-serve’ checkout with seven items. What a time saver indeed.

Still, I did get to see both my little grandsons. My youngest daughter was also visiting with her husband and son.

Such minor difficulties as we encountered this morning faded into insignificance as the elder of the two babies by five and a half months, beamed ecstatically and ‘chattered’ to me as I walked in, whilst the newest addition lay, snug as a bug in a rug, enjoying his third day in the world.

Er, mum, who’s this?

I really cannot complain. 🙂

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Martha Mawson

    Beautiful boys! And yes, I agree about the self-serve…it does always seem that, at some point during the transaction, something happens to make it far less convenient. I loved Bill Bailey’s take on it – where he likens the public punching at the scanner as ineffectively as kittens pawing at the telly when a bird appears. Not to mention the voice saying “unexpected item in the bagging area.”

  • Andrea Carlisle

    Deborah, you’re having an awful lot of fun, even when things are stressful. That’s a very sweet photo.

    Who needs that self serve business anyway? The correct way to finish up our shopping is by standing in line as God intended, averting our eyes from the temptation of Snickers bars, and reading up on what Angelina and Brad are doing these days.

  • Patricia

    Oh what cute babes! Thank you for sharing.

    I will not allow my husband to go through the self-service queue at all – it can take us hours to get that mess straightened up – and nearly never a drive thru for the few times we try fast food outlets – he is never up to speed and having all those line up behind (and honking) is never to my taste.

    After several horrid mishaps at the self – serve lane, I now just take it in my stride – for every 4 machines there is one clerk standing by and that makes it move in such a much more lovely pace. I think your voices must be much nicer than our error messages – such as, I always bring my own bags and the voice rudely says “Scan the item before placing in the bag”

    We have one store without any self-scanners, and no candy or magazines at the counters (the front of the counters are their gift store shelves) but they do not get the scanners because they want to keep as many folks hired as possible thru this economic crisis – such as Oregon has someone there to pump your gas – some one employed.

    I get really upset with all these extra cards one must now carry and how they send your coupon weekly to your email….I like that tons of folks are not getting paper in their mailboxes, but having to have all these little cards to get savings and dividends. I see why the oldest generation is so confused, because I know I am!

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Patricia, that’s great that they want to keep people employed I suppose. Seem to be plenty still employed where the scanners are used here mind you – all rushing round fixing scanners hee hee. Our machines don’t always have voices but the text that flashes up is “LOUD” if you know what I mean 🙂
      As for carrying cards, yes they take up so much space and can never be found quickly- you may recall I leant my ‘Boots’ points collecting card to my friend and was then taken for her mother!

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. congratulations that is delightful news to hear .. a new life, with an elder cousin to help him along.

    I agree self-service is a nightmare .. I don’t use it if I can avoid it .. M & S are usually pretty good .. but it’s ‘too far’ away for me to use here – I use Waitrose more convenient.

    Enjoy your times ahead with grandsons to delight .. Hilary

  • Deb

    My hubby likes those self-service lanes, but I prefer to let the experts handle things. Another great story, Deb. I’m so glad you got such special time with the babies. Love the new look of your blog.

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