James Heaney on the joys of food shopping in St Andrews
Being a student in St Andrews is generally a fantastic life experience. We all know that; it’s why we chose to study here. I could continue by typing up the exhausted list of positives associated with the University and town, but by doing so I would put you into an immediate déjà vu-induced sleep. Instead, I shall move on to the point I have to make: there is a major flaw in our seemingly perfect bubble (apart from its lack of a train station) and it’s a flaw that is too often overlooked: there is no decent supermarket here.
I know that some people will retort with the ‘Morrisons’ card, but please don’t even try. Morrisons isn’t a supermarket; it’s a shed that also happens to sell food. I for one can’t even utter its full name. Instead, I combine ‘Safeways’ (Rest in Peace) with ‘Morrisons’, to create ‘Morriways’… just to soften the blow. I might be alone in doing so; admittedly, it is an extreme measure. However, my complete aversion to Morrisons (I shall refer to its actual name henceforth for the purpose of clarity) is completely justified, not only by its ugly and antediluvian appearance but also because of the substandard food that it sells. Furthermore, its sickening 60s-inspired burgundy staff uniform only adds to the feeling that you are in fact shopping in an NHS Hospital.
People may call me a snob at this outburst… I don’t really care. Call me a snob, but my Morrisons food purchases have so far seen me endure more food-related horrors in the last two years of my life than all of the 20 years I lived prior to arriving in St Andrews. I got food poisoning for the first and only time in my life courtesy of Morrisons (‘chicken’ from their ‘cooked’ food section). On another poultry-related incident, in first year I chomped into a bone on their ‘boneless’ fajita chicken pizza; it had been concealed (perhaps purposefully) beneath a thick layer of grease. I crunched into another bone that had been hiding in their ‘Best’ mince. Therefore, I have been forced to conclude that Morrisons has the unrivalled ability amongst supermarkets to debone their meat products with an attitude of care that would make Lord Sugar blush.
Other purchases I have unwittingly made include a stale cheese sandwich; masquerading as fresh behind what can only have been a misprinted sell by date. I even bit into an olive – the last in a tub of ‘pitted’ olives – only to almost break a tooth. Potato salad tasting of soil was another delight and don’t even get me started on their peppers; it’s a miracle if you can take them outside the unique Morrisons atmosphere and into the fresh air without them rotting away. Perhaps it’s the general aura of derelict crapness that preserves the similarly awful foodstuffs in their domain. However, if you do manage to get the peppers into a fridge in time before they disintegrate, when you finally come to slice them up for eating you’ll be met with the surprisingly aromatic overtones of either nicotine or soap.
On the fortnightly trip my flatmates and I make to Morrisons, it’s with the same reluctance and mutual apathy. I am resigned to the fact that whilst in St Andrews I will just have to ‘make do’ with food, hence why I eat out so often. There is nothing at Morrisons that interests me and there never will be. Even the branded goods on offer there seem less appealing than in any other supermarket; greyed by the polluting rays of its own cheaply produced products, which are limited in variety and range. However, until a decent supermarket comes to town, I will be forced to shop there simply to recover from the claustrophobic panic attacks brought on by entering Tesco on Market Street.
There has rarely been a time, in fact, when I’ve been to Tesco and could move freely down the aisles. I swear the trolleys parked at the entrance are only there to serve as decorative reminders that you are actually in a supermarket; half the time it’s optimistic to think you can carry a wallet, let alone a basket. Usually, I opt to merely grasp things in my open hands (food – though other customers sometimes get in the way) as I normally abandon the basket with a moan of despair after passing the magazines.
However, this grievance is nothing when compared to approaching the sandwich aisle at lunchtime. After elbowing myself through crowds of Madras school kids for the remains of a much-thumbed sandwich, I am often forced to politely indicate to the two elderly ladies settling down for a good chat in front of the fridges (you know who they are!) that whilst I love overhearing what each of their combined nine grandsons are doing at university in Stirling, I really must purchase my semi-skimmed milk and get on with my own life.
Whilst Tesco is a crucial lifeline for picking up those last minute items needed for the dinner you promised your flat mates the week before, it hardly cuts the mustard when you’re trying to buy food for the week. I like Tesco’s products; they at least sell some decent food of a much better quality than Morrisons. However, their range is so narrow due to the store’s size that unless you want milk, bread, cereal or some buttered vegetable from their Finest range, you are again faced with a shopping dead end.
The most annoying factor in all of this is that our limited food-shopping options are an unnecessary cruelty we are forced to endure. Anyone who disagrees with my Morrisons hatred is obviously entitled to their opinion but I defy anyone to disagree with my next point: we desperately need a Marks and Spencer. I haven’t yet got to the stage where my dreams are infiltrated with tantalising images of their belly pork, thai fishcakes and Oakham roast chicken, but it’s only a matter of time. Furthermore, every time I speak to someone about the supermarket crisis in St Andrews I am met with the same response: ‘I wish we had a Marks and Spencer’. Everywhere else seems to have one, no matter how remote or small, yet we are expected to travel to Dundee for the privilege.
If they were to open a branch here, M & S St Andrews would undoubtedly become one of the chain’s most profitable stores; I for one would attend the grand opening armed with a Tesco trolley (they won’t be missed) ready to fill it to the brim with goodies. I would only consider the financial implications of my indulgence at a later date. However, I believe it is better to pay more for choice and quality rather than being forced to purchase cheap and, let’s be honest, unappealing food.
Even if I were given free reign in Morrisons St Andrews, in a supermarket sweep style shelf-plundering à la Dale Winton, I can honestly say I would probably leave with an empty trolley… with the possible exception of a solitary bottle of wine to help me forget the trauma of trawling down its uninviting aisles. Moreover, the seemingly endless building work that still continues to this day will not make Morrisons’ food any better. Let’s knock it down and in its place let’s have a Marks and Spencer, a Waitrose, a Sainsbury’s, a Tesco you can move freely in… anything other than that dreaded banana yellow circle filled with the bogey green ‘M’.
Photography – James Heaney