If you had told me 30 years ago that in the future my big shop would be delivered every Friday a;ernoon, between 5: 30
p.m. and 6: 30 p.m., by a man called Barnaby,
driving something called “Cabbage Van,” I
would have suspected you’d had a little “pop,”
as my Uncle Jack would call it.
As my husband, who sometimes risks her-niating himself to help Barnaby (or Andrew
in Raspberry Van, or Jason in Lemon Van) lug
my bags into the kitchen, pointed out, the rise
of the grocery delivery service is possibly the
single biggest change in our day-to-day lives
since we got married.
Back then, we would go to the Supermart
on a Saturday morning—along with half the
rest of the Island—and then labour home, our
Honda 90 so overloaded it looked like we were
;eeing Phnom Penh rather than just restocking the larder.
;e early years in the UK were not much
di;erent, except that instead of our trusty
motorcycle I did the grocery run in the car.
It still took the best part of three hours, but
there was less risk that I would wipe out on the
way home and spill a week’s worth of food and
drink into the road.
By the late nineties, Sainsbury’s had set
up an online service. Clearly designed by a
man—I still recall spending an absolute age
looking for avocados only to ;nd them lurking
with the Bartlett and Conference pears—the
website was so tortuous it actually took more
time to order my groceries than if I’d just given
up, hopped in the Fiat and driven to the store.
Now, though, I can’t remember the last
time I did a weekly shop in the car. Waste my
Saturday a;ernoon circling for a space in the
Tesco parking lot when I can just park myself
at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a
Welsh cake, open the laptop, and let Barnaby
do all the heavy li;ing? No contest!
True, if I’ve run out of Welsh cakes, there’s
not much that Ocado—the service I prefer
because not only do they know that avocados
belong with the salad stu;, they also o;er a
one-hour delivery slot, as opposed to the usual
two—can do about it. Or at least not until Friday, when Cabbage Van sets o; on its rounds.
;ere are other drawbacks, too. I’ve just had
an e-mail, letting me know that in a fortnight’s
time, I can book my Christmas order. It
sounds very civilised, doesn’t it?
But don’t be fooled. In Christmas week, “in
order to manage incredibly high demand,” all
the regular delivery slots are cancelled. Which
means, come the morning of D-Day, thou-
sands of frantic women (and
it is still mostly women, alas)
will be trying to bag one of the
coveted December 23 or 24
spaces. Imagine trying to snare
tickets to see Bruce Springsteen
in concert. At the Robin Hood.
And you’re nearly there.
In the past, the best I’ve
been able to manage
is December 21, and
even that involves
a fair amount of
the lettuce be limp
by the time Boxing
Day—and the inevitable bleats for “just a little
turkey sandwich”—rolls around? Will I really
need six pounds of unsalted butter to see me
through 12 days of Christmas? Perhaps not,
but if I don’t stick it in my online basket now,
it may sell out, and then I may have to make
the brandy butter with...lard.
;ere are non-seasonal problems, too.
Somebody else packs your groceries, for one
thing. And from what I’ve seen, that somebody did not have a mother who explained
that dry goods go together, ditto chilled items,
and that it is never acceptable to put the eggs
at the bottom of a bag. (Mercifully, in this
situation, you can just go online and get a
refund; reason: “Other—rank stupidity.”)
Sometimes Barnaby, or Andrew, or Jason,
is running late and positively twitching in his
desire to make a quick getaway. So instead
of a cheery “Where would you like them,
missus?!” the doorbell goes and it’s like that
scene from ;e Revenge of the Pink Panther…
”Special delivery—a bomb! Were you expect-
Operator error can be a factor, too. Like the
time I meant to order ;ve avocados but wound
up with 20, a;er failing to spot that they were
sold in multi-packs. (I feel I should point out
here that I do sometimes order things other
than avocados, though clearly the Blackmore
family have some soul searching to do, vis-a-
vis recent news stories about the demise of
Mexico’s pine forests.)
;en again, there are some foods I would
never trust someone else to select (or perhaps
just immediate family, and even then, only
a;er a lengthy lecture). Like...meat. If I want a
steak, I want to see the whites of its marbling
with my own two eyes.
;e general rule, with online shopping—as
with life—is to ask yourself what’s the worst
that could happen?
If the answer is that on Christmas Day you
wind up with a turkey the size of a pigeon because you couldn’t ;gure out how the weight
bit worked, don’t take that chance.
Inconvenient Truths of Convenience
That’s Life! A Letter from London | WRITTEN BY WINIFRED BLACKMORE