You're looking at a fragment of our weekly shopping list. Note the colour-coding for different sections of the store, the aisle numbers in the left-hand column, even the sub-aisles denoted by a proto Dewey decimal system of groceries. I know what you're thinking. Hold fast those cries of "anal retentive". Titter-ye-not at this most un J-M like behaviour. This is the work of my beloved and I am its beneficiary. Each week, Caroline studiously prepares this list, and I carry it to Sainsbury's to perform a deft and streamlined weekly shop. I sleekly glide through the aisles like German engineering, picking items hither and thither without a care to furrow my brow.
I have been doing this on a weekly basis for many years. The routine doesn't end with the list. Each week I meet Martin at Sainsbury's and we share the same jokes, gossip about mutual friends, catch up on news of my former employer. Usually we meet in aisle 34, but just for grins we sometimes shake things up and give 33 a try.
Lately though, things have been sadly amiss at Sainsbury's. Martin likened it to a Soviet winter. Gaping holes appear on shelves and the German machinery lurches and fails. Instead of a neat array of crosses, I return with a list scarred with circles; items that must be returned to next week's list, or, worse, extraordinary shopping trips have to be undertaken.
This morning we decided to try something different. Circumstances found us Child-Free in Chandlers Ford (aside: Richard Curtis you may use this title in exchange for 1% of box-office takings). We felt the magnetic pull of the newish Waitrose store that has been drawing in people like us like moths to a flame.
"It's a bit disorienting" I announce unsteadily.
"Never fear" says C. "It'll be good for us; stretch us a bit".
A few aisles later: "You have to keep your wits about you, on this mind-expanding trip around the supermarket", I whimper. "I think we just missed Camomile tea".
I'm discomfited by the massed shelves of Perfectly Balanced foods. A lifelong ectomorph, I distrust this stuff. I seek out Satisfyingly Saturated and Famously Filling. Still, the Bistro Tarts look tasty and Tom proclaimed the chocolate brownies a triumph. Small thrills cheer me: being able to self-scan The Guardian, rather than furtively declaring it a
problem item, as if smuggling Das Kapital into Dallas-Fort Worth.
A last surprise in store (groan). Too many months working at BT have introduced me to the term "bill-shock", but today I experienced it. Our case of Grolsch, regularly ?11.99 at Sainsbury's, even sometimes two for ?22, came in at ?18.35.
A voice rings out from the service desk: "Customer about a lobster."