It all began with the pork pie. Not any old pork pie. A Sainsbury’s special Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. It almost hit Chris on the head, and bounced on to the floor of the minibus as we sped along the M9 towards Edinburgh airport.
Distracted, I missed a turning and accidentally headed off to Glasgow. Oops. Then came the yogurt bomb. Spend much time with Hannah and Dominic and it won’t be long before you eat a Muller Corner Crunch with vanilla Choco Balls. This one however launched itself off the luggage rack and burst on the floor, again narrowly missing Chris. It was rapidly becoming apparent that the shopping left over from our Christmas week’s stay in a splendid Scottish house, that Aaron and I had so successfully packed on to the luggage shelves of the 17-seater minibus I’d hired for the occasion, wasn’t so secure after all. “Ew!” announced Hana from just behind me near the front, as semi-skimmed milk (something we can never get in Addis) began dripping from above. What a waste. She plugged the flow with a tissue. No-one told us to keep any of the bags upright. A motorway is no place to pull over and try to repack groceries on a parcel shelf to stop suicidal goodies launching themselves at the passengers, so I drove on, as smoothly as possible. Luckily, the shopping bombardment stopped.
Getting James, Hannah, Aaron and Beth together with their spouses and four children in a large Scottish house in the hills outside Dunblane had resulted in an unforgettable Christmas. We had a few days left in Edinburgh for New Year, and then a short time in Norfolk with the rest of the family would precede our return to Addis.
With any spare corner of our four large bags stuffed with bacon, sausages, butter and the like, we checked in at Heathrow on Wednesday evening for our overnight flight away from the cold and wet of the UK to the warm sunshine of Addis. I say warm - when we arrived at 6:30am just around sunrise the temperature was 3°C, and the uninitiated tourists on the plane with us expecting tropical weather wearing shorts and flip-flops emerged on to the runway to discover that despite being only 9 degrees from the equator Addis’s altitude of over 2000 metres results in some very cold early mornings. Haile was waiting, and as he drove us back home to Bingham he told us that while we were away he had seen frost on the grass for the first time in his life – a mesmerising experience for someone who’s never lived outside of Addis.
A combination of the goodies we brought back and various invitations to eat with friends delayed for a couple of days our need to shop until after “Gena” - Ethiopian Christmas. There’s a lovely new supermarket very close to a lovely old supermarket that together would provide everything we need (except fruit and veg) for the coming week. We filled a trolley at the new one (including, wonder of all wonders, a litre of real UHT cream) where I waited in a substantial queue while Chris headed off to the old one for the rest of the stuff. The length of the queue was explained by a malfunctioning check-out till. Now before I relate what happened next, please understand the importance of till receipts - printed ones. If I leave the shop without one, I break the law. Yes – I do. In some restaurants there are signs on the wall imploring you not to leave without a receipt. In one supermarket we tried on two occasions to buy a pack of coffee beans but as they couldn’t find the stock code to put into the till we were not allowed to buy it despite it being on a shelf with a price ticket stuck on. And woe betide you if there’s a power cut while you’re at the till. Everything grinds to a halt. You can’t buy anything at all if the till doesn’t work. No manual back-up. You have to have the till receipt. End of story.
Well the malfunctioning till I’m now queuing at is actually working - all except for the barcode reader. With the sort of undaunted determination we’ve rarely seen anywhere other than Ethiopia, a young man rushes up and when he can’t fix the barcode reader he proceeds to read out every barcode on all the 18 items in my trolley to the young lady on the till, who types them all in on a key pad. The queue gets longer. Chris is in the old supermarket wondering what’s taking so long. I’m watching the till carefully but between them Barcode Boy and Till Girl make not one mistake. Once it’s all done and paid for, something new happens. Another young man is fiddling with a small printer on the floor next to the till. He takes the till receipt, taps a few buttons on a keyboard and prints me out and then signs a second receipt complete with everything that was on the original receipt - plus all the barcodes. Just in case I need them I suppose. Check out the picture. It’s safe to say I’ve never posted a picture of a till receipt before.
Finally here are a couple of sneaky pictures I took whilst shopping in a similar supermarket yesterday. Card payments are slowly becoming available in some larger shops, but this place had a veritable carpark full of card readers. I paid in cash, but only after four (yes, four) employees had seen us through the checkout. One to unload the trolley, one to use the barcode reader (which was working), one to pack the bags, and one to take the money. Sainsbury’s was never like this.