Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Consumer culture

When we were busy, and had money, we got in the habit of ordering our groceries on the net and having it delivered by van. Many of the supermarkets do this now.

Steve Latham

It’s an additional £5 for the delivery. But we didn’t consider it a lot to pay, when we saved time from shopping for essentials.

This is after all so boring – unlike the pleasures of shopping for stuff we actually wanted – such as, in my case, books.

There is, after all, no place for criticising others for being consumers – for example, when men have a go at women for spending money on shoes and designer labels.

And then they proceed to judge a woman on how she looks. When, in any case, men just prefer to spend their dough on other things: like gadgets, beer and sports gear.

We are all consumers now, we merely differ about what we want to buy and in what manner – in a physical store, or online – virtually, if not virtuously.

In the case of books, however, I plead ethical superiority. These surely are of higher value. Nevertheless I have a bad conscience about it.

This is because I too buy from that evil, nameless, online bookstore; justifying myself on the pretext that I need to obtain obscure publications for the courses I teach in college.

I am aware, of course, that internet book buying causes many book shops to close; and there is surely nothing better than the serendipity of finding a new book and carrying it home triumphantly.

Back to the home delivery service. There is nothing new under the sun. I remember my second job, while a teenager, in Lancashire, as a grocer’s delivery boy at the age of fourteen.

My first job, was as a caddy at the local golf course, aged twelve. This ended ignominiously, after I stepped on the ball, squelching it in the mud, and the players glared at me angrily. I never returned.

As a delivery boy, I was given an old rickety cast iron black bicycle, with a metal basket on front. Twice a week, I went along and the basket was loaded up with boxes of groceries.

I visited mainly housebound old ladies who phoned in their orders, and mothers busy with kids, who ordered the shopping after they collected their children from school.

I found the boxes heavy, and remember being helped by a female member of staff. I had thought she was a bit tubby, but only discovered later that she had been pregnant.

A shock to be aided by a pregnant girl; but a revelation of the strength they possess, as well as my own naivety about what pregnancy was about.

The economics of home deliveries is questionable though. The actual cost per delivery today is apparently about £15-20.

The supermarkets will not be able to continue charging £5 for much longer. It is a far cry from the mere 50p a week that I got for my rounds.

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