Nothing annoys me more than waiting in a queue for the checkout in a supermarket. Actually, that’s not true, loads of things annoy me more than that… for example, Eamonn Holmes, and the fact that orange juice is always served at social functions for people who aren’t drinking alcohol. Anyway, I digress – the notion of those new self-checkout machines appearing in supermarkets is a good thing… when they work properly.

Mrs A does a big weekly shop on Monday, but I’m often dispatched at weekends to get the odd item or three. It has been noted that I can never just buy the things on the list, that I always have to add something (which is true). But as there’s usually just a small number of items, I get to use the self-checkout machine. Cool, eh? Hmmm…

On this occasion I was sent to buy a large pumpkin (something to do with Halloween maybe), a chicken (a dead one, for roasting), coleslaw and ice-cream – and I added mini-Battenburg cakes and some honey-roasted cashew nuts (which we absolutely 100% needed).

Being a good citizen of planet Earth I’d brought my own bags, so the first step of self-checkout is to let the machine verify those bags. I followed the instructions, and the machine said it needed human intervention. Cue the old man with a bar-code on a well-worn card – he swiped the card and pressed something, and I was ready to progress.

First item was the pumpkin – the biggest one I’ve ever purchased, it could be hollowed out to provide shelter for three homeless badgers. I scanned it, I placed it next to the bags, and a voice said:

Unexpected item in bagging area

Eh? I scanned in a pumpkin, so why was the placement of a pumpkin in the bagging area unexpected? What was it expecting… a tube of haemorrhoid ointment? Maybe a packet of digestive biscuits? Cue the man with the bar-code card, who swiped and pressed something, and I was ready to progress.

Next up was the chicken – I scanned it, I picked up one of the bags and put the chicken inside, and placed it back in the bagging area. A voice said:

Unexpected item in bagging area

Bloody hell. It’s a chicken, which weighs about the same as a dead chicken and has the same approximate dimensions as a dead chicken. But the machine clearly thought I’d scanned in a chicken and placed an electric toothbrush in the bag. I picked up the bag and a voice said:

Please return the item to the bagging area

Hearing me utter a mild profanity, the man with the bar-code card intervened and worked his magic. Next up, one of the tubs of ice-cream. I scanned it, and this time placed it in the bag without moving the bag (I’m now making very careful movements, like someone playing a bizarre version of Ker-Plunk). A voice said:

Unexpected item in bagging area

By now I wanted to cancel the whole process and join a queue to be serviced by a human being. Enter bar-code man, who once again waved the magic card and pressed the magic button. Like a supermarket version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, this time he uttered a subtle instruction – “it should be okay now”. And hey presto, it was. The rest of the ice-cream went into the cold bag, and even though I was filled with an icy dread at the thought of utilising the second bag, Mr Bar-Code wasn’t required again.

I got home, and Mrs A pointed out that she’d tried calling me, and had sent me a text message to say that I should also buy a bag of penne pasta. Back to the supermarket…

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