Before I became the MP for North West Hampshire, I represented Ealing Acton – a constituency of beauty and contrast. All the beauty was in Ealing and all the contrast was in Acton. I remember attending the opening of a new supermarket in West London in the 1970’s.
It was small by today’s standards, but large for its time. I stood next to a gentleman whom I didn’t recognise, but whose autograph was widely sought after by the ladies invited for the occasion (in those days, men on the whole didn’t shop) He was the villain in a soap opera, supplementing his income by cutting ribbons. Before the ceremony began, he asked me how much I had been paid to come along. I had to admit I had come along for nothing. (With my small majority, I was almost in the business of paying for photo opportunities such as these). He took a dim view of my low market value, regarding it as potentially depressing the fee which he could command. He kept on looking nervously at his script which said “I hereby declare this supermarket open.” I thought, given his professional background, he might have been able to commit this sentence to memory. As the Towncrier commanded silence, he and I gazed round the cavernous metal windowless construction with that lay before us. “I declare this supermarket open” declared the villainous Mr Soap; but then he began to ski off-piste “But all this stuff will have to go when they bring the aeroplanes back inside.”
This throwaway remark caused him to go up considerably in my estimation. But the architect and the store manager were unamused. The store manager spoke to the soap star’s agent, who I suspect had crafted the speech. It seemed that the fee was being renegotiated downwards, to that with which Members of Parliament are familiar.
It was the only supermarket opening I attended in 23 years in Ealing Acton. Since coming to Andover, I seem to do little else. Lidls; then Sainsbury’s (when it took over from Safeway); then Asda; and now, to judge by the signs, Sainsbury’s again.
This has led to a welcome burst of competition for the Andover purse. Vouchers are flying around the town, with supermarkets accepting each other’s tokens. There are some ASDA flowerbeds at the Tesco roundabout, and Tescos should respond by buying the cinema above ASDA. The Consumer is King.
The latest round in these store wars has just arrived through my letterbox, imploring me to use my computer to buy my food on line. One sentence of the many promises caught my eye “To deliver in perfect condition, picked and packed with passion by W**tr**e Partners”
How, I asked my wife (who still does the shopping,) might we tell the difference between produce that is picked and packed with passion; and produce that is picked and packed without passion? Some lipstick on the cereal packet? A tear-stain on the croissants? Some tell-tale saliva on the frozen Chicken Massala?
Is there an on-screen box for those of us who prefer our food picked and packed in the English as opposed to the French style? What will be the next initiative in these store wars.