Alan Dee: Why are we so in love with shopping?

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HERE’S what’s really worrying about the world we live in – we’re so in love with shopping and spending that a trip to the supermarket is the highlight of the week.

And don’t tell me it’s not true because I’ve seen it happen, and happen twice, in the last few days.

Now I’m not blind to the entertainment value of sniffing around an unfamiliar supermarket.

In my younger days when Clan Dee decamped to rural France for a cheapish summer holiday miles from anywhere in a converted cowshed – Mrs Dee refused to go under canvas or in a caravan at any cost, due to scarring experiences in her own childhood, and a gite was the least expensive option – a mooch around the aisles of the nearest Intermarche was part of the holiday.

But that was because it was different – the knobbly veg, the unusual dairy products, the stacked selection of cheese and sausage were nothing like what was on offer back home.

Down every aisle there was something odd, whether it was olives in a jar or cassoulet in a can.

The discovery of a petrol pump affair in the back of one scruffy supermarket which the locals used to decant rotgut red win at about 10p a litre into plastic containers they brought with them is a particular fond memory, even if the morning after isn’t.

It was unusual in the extreme to spot a familiar UK brand in these backwaters, and like well-prepared Brits we took our own teabags and didn’t quite trust the milk.

But as the kids grew, the experience changed. They got their excitement from spotting items they knew, even if the names were sometimes different.

Soon it seemed as if half the stock in a foreign supermarket looked exactly the same as it did at the bottom of the road back home, whether it was toiletries, breakfast cereals, bottles of beer or bars of chocolate.

Where’s the fun in finding that you’ve flown half way across Europe and the shops are serving up the same stuff you’ve got in the larder back in Blighty? Magnum choc ice on a stick, anyone? Bottle of Cif? A selection of Cesar choice cuts for your four-legged friend?

But it gets worse. Over the last couple of weeks I have had occasion to pop in to two new supermarkets – and not even new ones, but new outposts of the big chains after they’d swallowed up one of the smaller fry.

In each case, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about either store. They were exactly the same as any other outlet in the megachains whose brands they now wore. The layout was the same, the stock was the same, the offers were the same as the nearest companion store a few miles distant.

Yet each time the place was rammed with people who seemed to have come out just for the trip, as excited by these utterly humdrum makeovers as theatre lovers would be by a West End premiere or football fans by a Wembley final.

There was absolutely nothing new to see, but the punters seemed to be drawn to the cathedral of consumerism just because it was there. And that ought to trouble us all.

But what was I doing there, then? Well, it’s something to do with a birthday cake, but more about that later.