E-fit woman

Carrots, beep; cheese, beep; baguette, beep; milk, beep; doughnuts, beep; doughnuts delete; low fat yoghurt, beep...

It's never too late to join the technological revolution.

Only the other day I spent a pleasant 20 minutes texting my daughter. “Hi, Ruth!” I typed out with religious attention to punctuation and pressed the “send” button.

Within a minute, Ruth has replied in a screed long enough to grace the first chapter of a new Dickens' novel.

By the standards of most 13-year-olds I am barely e-literate - although, unlike many of them, I can still place an apostrophe with an elegant flourish.

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It is not entirely my fault that technology is moving faster than me. When you need two pairs of glasses just to make your packed lunch, performing e-tasks is not easy.

So it is not without some strutting and chest puffing (yes, I'm aware I don't need to puff out my chest; it's gone quite far enough already) that I announce the latest addition to my armoury of 21st century skills. I, Lynne Mortimer, am a grand master of the do-it-yourself check-out at Marks and Spencer.

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After some calamitous first sessions in which members of staff who tried to help me were ferried out on stretchers suffering mental exhaustion, I finally got the hang of it.

In fact, my scan-and-beep technique has been commented on and admired by many of those same employees who once went into hiding when they saw me approaching.

Has it been worth it? As an exercise in time and motion, it is doubtful that M&S has saved itself any resources at all by letting me loose on their check-yourself-out option.

I have been trained up to the equivalent of an NVQ 1 in Checking out Groceries but at what cost?

At first it took two assistants and a manager to get me and my five items through the check-out.

The equation - and this is where my degree in economics proves to be no use at all - would set the cost of the time given up by M&S staff over my training period against the time saved by not having one customer go through the manned till four or five times a week.

By the addition of a multiplier on the right hand side of the equation, you should be able to work out how long it will take the store to recoup its investment.

I reckon it will take something in the region of 25 years… so wouldn't it have been better to open another till?

The thing about public technology is that we all have to perform the same tricks. When I was a kid, it was claimed that technology would make all our lives easier. Now I realise that the inanimate object is in charge and I am merely the cipher.

If I don't like an aspect of a computerised system, it is me that has to get used to it because the machine ain't changing.

At Marksies, the first hurdle I had to overcome was the urgent message that there was an “unknown item in the bagging area”.

I checked for squirrels but couldn't see anything unknown.

“Have you got an unknown item in your bagging area?” asked the woman at the next check-out who was also struggling to conquer the system.

“I have.”

“Mmm, so have I. I wonder what it could be.”

With the benefit of one-to-one tuition sessions with one of my M&S friends - we've all spent so long together, we're more than just acquaintances - I know that if you use your own shopping bag it constitutes an unknown item, even though my shopping bags are extremely well known to me.

Occasionally it will ask: “Skip bagging?” This has nothing to do with filling skips. Nor does it have anything to do with schoolboy Fotherington-Thomas's tendencies, as described in the seminal book How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willans: “Who says: 'Hello birdies, hello sky,' and skip like a girlie.”

Skip bagging is when you've forgotten to put the scanned item in your shopping bag.

Confused? You should have been there.

But now, having earned my black belt in checky-outee it is my preferred mode of exit. I have become conversant with the whereabouts of the bar codes and I can identify my cakes and vegetables (aka knowing one's onions).

I am 21st century woman. Bring on the blackberry.

Ron Longland has discovered some more items of misdirected mail from invitees that should have been sent to organisers of the Fairy Tale Conference at the University of East Anglia, a week or so back. I hope the missing replies didn't mess up the catering.


Thank you for your invitation which I was fully intending to accept. Unfortunately my attempts to find a suitable roadside power point proved to be fruitless. Until your country catches up with my research I regret that I cannot accept any such future invitations.

Dr Frankenstein, FRCElec

My Dear Dinner Guests,

I thank you for your invitation but I note that the conference was scheduled for the daytime. I am not at my best during that time, being much more active during the hours of darkness. Unless future dates are mid-winter in the north of Greenland I regret that my absence must remain precisely that.

Dracula, Count (Decd)

Ron writes: “The last one rather puzzled me. Perhaps you have the time to consider what it might mean.”


I reply on behalf of Rose, Martha, Donna and the others with respect to your invitation. On my instructions they decline to attend. I will take this opportunity to appear in their stead should you next hold such a conference in the future, or indeed the past, whenever I feel that such attendance will fit with my plans for universal personal achievement.

The Master

Mmm, can't think Who that could be, Ron.

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