The spoonie-sapping Sainsbury’s saga…

Sitting here, surrounded by the wonderful smell of brisket, simmering in an amazingly tasty and aromatic stock, it seems churlish to grouch but, hey, what the hell? I feel like shit so I might as well vent!

I mentioned on Twitter, earlier today (for those that don’t yet know, on Twitter I’m @rantsfromron, as @ronsrants was already taken), that my local Sainsbury’s – Upton, Wirral – really, really, sucks. There’s a reason for that – quite simply, it’s badly run,** I don’t know what the overnight restocking team does, but it’s not restocking, and it almost never has the items that Sainsbury’s website says it should have which, as it’s designated a superstore, which I find infuriating.

** I once overheard two oiks arguing with a guy who was clearly their line manager, about whose turn it was to bring in the bread delivery. Sorry, no way – if you’re told to do it, it’s your turn, even if it’s not. If you don’t like it, bugger off and work somewhere else. Employees are there to do what they’re delegated to do as long as it falls within their job description (and sometimes even if it doesn’t), not bloody argue about it. Me, I’d have given them both a choice – fetch the bread in or hit the bricks. (Yep, I know I’ve told that before, but not everybody reads every post.)

I’ve also griped, several times previously, about the rash of empty shelves on a Sunday morning (what do the shelf-filling crew do all sodding night?), so I made a supreme effort today (not hyperbole, I take my first meds at 06.00, and they take an hour or two to kick in), got up shortly after 06.00 and was there by 06.50. And I still couldn’t buy what I wanted (and yes, some shelves were bare, but that could just be the time of year; or it could be the usual crap). but advertised products – too many of them – simply weren’t there.

As I mentioned in my last post I wanted, among other things, a dry-cured gammon joint, a rare beast among cured meats as it didn’t have a sizeable addition of water for which I would have been charged £12/kg. I have no doubt I could have got one online, as Sainsbury’s deliveries to my area  ignore their local superstore and, instead, are serviced by their Ellesmere Port store, with the result that I usually get what I want. Unlike at Upton, where I usually don’t.

Bacon and gammon joints, instead of being in their normal location, were scattered throughout the chilled sections, so I might have missed some, but I don’t think so – there were, quite simply, no dry-cure gammon joints to be had. I wound up with beef. The beef has the usual immoveable label on the top of the pack (the type which you just know will only come off in tiny, torn bits – or will tear the bag and leak blood everywhere!). Which is unfortunate, as Sainsbury’s, pillocks that they are, have chosen to put storage information on the back of the label – not too helpful you dozy buggers! The cooking information is on the back too, but that’s OK as, of course, you have to remove the pack to cook it, so you can wash off the blood and read how you should have stored it!

Well, OK, if I didn’t know how to store a beef joint it’d be a pretty poor show but, hey, a lot of people really have no idea how to store food. As Charlie’s mother said, in Two and a half Men** “I was a young wife – how did I know you didn’t keep fish in a drawer?” Apropos of her first husband expiring from food poisoning, and while you’d really have to be bloody stupid to think that, it’s a valid point – instructions which concern safety should be clearly accessible.

**And I know Charlie Sheen was a tosser, but dear god, Ashton Kutcher is a total waste of space. Watch some of the old episodes, realise just how good Sheen was, then watch Kutcher and weep at the death of a once-great show.

In addition, they – Sainsbury’s, not Two and a Half Men – advertised a pork, chilli and coriander sausage, spiked with paprika so, naturally enough – and not being at my best at that hour or, indeed, at all, as it’s turned out – I just looked for a pink/red sausage (the paprika), grabbed a pack, added a couple more varieties** – hell, they were on offer, 3 packs for £6 – and moved on. Got home, and the red sausage turned out to be beef and cracked black pepper!

**Outdoor-reared organic pork sausages, and ditto Cumberland. And Sainsbury’s sausages have greatly improved of late – still not as good as mine, though 😉

Yes, OK, I should have read the label, but it was early, and I was on foot, a double challenge I could have well done without, as my meds hadn’t yet kicked in. But here’s the thing – they aren’t a deep, raw beef, red at all, they’re a shade which screams of added paprika or – possibly – roadkill. Not dead cow. So I have two things I like least, beef sausages** (sausages should be pig-based), and cracked black pepper – why would I want spicy gravel?

**Beef simply doesn’t have enough fat to make a succulent sausage (a meagre 7.4%), so I suspect, since I don’t have a dog, they’ll be going into a sausage and bean casserole sometime in the new year, in which they should absorb enough liquid to compensate for their egregious fat deficiency. And at least the sausages I didn’t get have given me an idea for homemade ones. This is what’s in the Sainsbury’s version:-

Pork (82%), Water, Breadcrumb (Wheat Flour, Yeast, Salt), Salt, Ginger Purée, Fresh Coriander, Black Pepper, Paprika, Fresh Garlic, Red Chilli, Fresh Marjoram, Preservative: Sodium Metabisulphite; Chilli Flakes, Cumin, Fresh Sage, Dried Red Pepper, Fennel, Antioxidant: Ascorbic Acid; Chilli Powder, Cayenne Pepper. Filled into natural pork casings.

That mix of ingredients is absurd – red chilli, chilli flakes, chilli powder, Cayenne pepper – sorry, but that really is chilli overkill. And paprika plus dried red pepper – why?

Mine will have fresh chillies, sweet paprika, ground coriander – possibly ginger too with white pepper and sea salt (I prefer white pepper in sausages, and it’s traditional). And that’s plenty – you really don’t need 14 flavourings (including the pork but excluding the salt and pepper), four of them variations on the theme of chilli (possibly 5 as they don’t specify sweet paprika, so it might well be hot), all battling each other for attention. And that sage is just going to dominate.

But that’s the problem with Sainsbury’s – they take a really good concept, a spicy pork sausage, then they throw a compost heap in the mix! Keep it simple guys – it really will taste better.

I think I’ll make those once Christmas is out of the way, and the normal range of meat is back in stock – I want a Basics Boned Pork Shoulder which, oddly enough, is better quality than the standard, and more expensive version, though it usually hasn’t been as neatly boned.** I usually add pork belly (in the form of Streaky Rashers – pork belly skinned and cut into thick slices), but last time I bought that it was horribly wet, so I’ll be content with whatever fat is in the shoulder.

**Whoever preps Sainsbury’s meat has the knife skills of a blind plumber.

If anyone is wondering, by the way, what’s going to happen to my veggie sausages with all this talk of meat well, they’ll get eaten, is what. They’re way too good to waste!

And while I’m at it, I might as well take a swipe at Tesco. I don’t celebrate Christmas in any noticeable way. I’m an atheist, so it has no religious significance, and I have no family, but I do like to treat myself to food I wouldn’t normally buy, and is spoonie-friendly, needing minimum work (hence the abortive quest for the gammon joint, above), and from Tesco, whose failure to deliver both sausages and a Wiltshire ham joint meant I had to go to sodding Sainsbury’s today.

Anyway, I got myself some Orkney Crab Terrine (this has a “decorative glaze” which is unusually thick and, as yesterday with the meat, seems to be just another way of adding water to the product, as it tastes of nothing but salt). It would be fair to say, I think, that the terrine (for which read fish paste with delusions of grandeur), was a massive disappointment, and in a blind tasting alongside, say, Shippam’s Crab Paste, would probably come a long way second. It contains a mere 48% of crab too.

To be honest, if it hadn’t been for the pack label, I’d never have guessed it was crab at all. Some of you who are, let’s say, of a certain age, doubtless remember a vivid pink “salmon” paste that used to be sold, loose, by grocers about 30-40 years ago (I loved the stuff). Well anyway, apart from the fact that it’s yellow (which part of the sodding crab is yellow anyway – crab meat comes in white or brown?), and liberally littered with what feels like finely ground shell fragments, it’s very like that stuff – but without the quality!

, and more expensive, version

6 thoughts on “The spoonie-sapping Sainsbury’s saga…

  1. The assorted Sainsburys Upton problems are probably down to the calibre of the manager and her/his heads of department: the lean management principle initiated by Tesco and followed by the others is very good as long as the boss has the energy and push to realise the HO and marketeers’ vision for the store.

    Thanks for the terrine heads-up, I won’t be fooled by ambitious labelling and will stay with Shiphams from the corner shop. If I can get there, my seasonal spend will probably be at Lidl where German food standards apply to most of the packaged stuff and the local one’s fresh food is reliably high quality. Good for chocolate, coffee and loo rolls too.

    You’ve also reminded me indirectly to visit the aforementioned local butcher and stock up with a selection of his sausages and bacon, sliced to order – each rasher is enough for a bacon sandwich compared to the packet type of bacon for which one needs the whole pack to separate the two slices of bread.

    Thank you for your continuing food blogs – they are always good reading and serve to remind me that I really must do to help myself 🙂

    • Well, you’re getting food posts because I’ve rather run out of inspiration (they’re undeniably popular, though, so doubtless there’ll be more). I’ve also noticed that with the change to more personal posts and away from the overtly political, the hit rate and the number of subscribers have both increased – the opposite of what I expected.

      Plus I’ve been writing about the endless battle over benefits, and the demonisation of the sick and disabled, for so long – since a few days after the election – that I’m tired of it, and the apparent futility (the anger is hard to sustain too and, these days, bad for me – I need calm). I’m also sick of seeing what I wrote over a year ago appearing now from other sources. I’m not saying it’s plagiarism – no-one can lay claim to a train of thought – but by god it’s tiresome and I’m pretty sure some of it actually is, though it’s impossible to prove unless they’re dumb enough to copy and paste, which I’m not aware of.

      Anyway, Sainsbury’s manager is, by all accounts, a nice guy, but nice guys aren’t always what you need to get the job done – sometimes you need a bit of a bastard – as long as he/she is even-handed. I’m pretty sure the Trolls that work the night shift won’t respond to “nice”.

      Another thought about the crab terrine – in the website pic it looks as if you get a sizeable slab of the stuff – in reality you get two small portions. Still, perhaps that’s a mercy . . .

      • Well you are a good writer whatever the subject. That sort of plagiarism sucks but I guess that’s the world we live in 😦

        I did start recording the impacts of the various changes at http://warriet.com/ but I lost heart big time and have been in a depressive pit for at least a year (or is that two?) and have only just started coming back to some kind of life having worked my way through almost the whole list of ant-depressants and anti-psychotics (the psychiatrist will nor prescribe anything that carries the risk of any kind of manic episode), The process of drug trialling has also had all sorts of physical side-effects; a part of my returning interest in good food is the need to preserve my physical health for as long as I can.

        Part of the problem and yes, it is a real problem for nice people, is the burden of responsibility for hundreds of staff, thousands of customers and a multi-million turnover. A run-down store tends to only pick up when a new manager takes the reins and deals with i.e. removes any problematic staff. In a previous life I was the Systems Manger for Tesco Europe and witnessed the daily travails and impossible working hours of the store managers. I only lasted two years, for some of the poor buggers it’s a lifetime of hard toil.

        Definitely a small mercy! (mental note to self to not be hoodwinked by glossy and well presented photographs.

        • Ah, well – I had one of the world’s best English teachers and, in my teens, too ill for sports, I’d do old O-level English papers to pass the time. And I’ve been writing on and off since I was 19 – Press Secretary to the Bootle Quiz League (and turned out for the world’s first pub quiz team, The Mount Hotel, Bootle), so I got all the bad habits and pretentiousness out of my system a long time ago. And the best advice I ever read – I think it might have been from James Thurber – was never use a $10 word when 2 or 3 50-cent words will get the job done (I paraphrase, but not by much). To which I’d add, never write perfect English, it’s dull. I’m not saying one shouldn’t know how to write perfect English, but colloquial English is always received more favourably.

          A classic example is Stephen King. Technically, considered purely from a scholarly standpoint, he’s pretty poor, but it can’t be denied that his style is immensely successful, and that’s what matters. I think the other side of the coin would be Dean R Koontz. From a poor, working-class background, he never really got out of the habit of striving for perfection, using $10 words, purely because of his humble beginnings, which insecurity drove him to demonstrate that he’d risen above. Needlessly, and I don’t understand why his publishers didn’t have a quiet word.

          As for depression, been there – got the T-shirt; nursed my mentally ill wife, on 24/7 suicide watch for five years, got ill with ME, and, with no physical or emotional resources left, had a breakdown, at which point she buggered off – and for me there’s no better therapy than writing (if all else fails, write about depression – hell, it worked for Bill Styron). Annoyingly, I can only write poetry when I’m seriously depressed, which is why there’s not much of it.

          I can’t take SSRIs because they make me cough so violently and uncontrollably my lungs haemorrhage, and tricyclics (apart from a low dose of Amitryptilline at night, for pain), don’t shut just the depression down, they shut my brain down as well. So I won’t take them.

          Until very recently it hasn’t been a real problem for about 20 years. During that time it’d roll in, drag me under, and in a few hours it’d be gone again. Now, though, it’s come to stay. Understandably, I suppose – it would be surprising were I not depressed. Now there’s an example – in my blog I’d write “if I wasn’t depressed”; yes, it’s wrong, but it’s what many, if not most, people expect to see.

          I also worked for a while as an adult literacy tutor. Turned out I had pretty good teaching skills, and it also gave me a good insight into what was needed to communicate successfully with less skilled readers, without appearing to write down to them.

  2. Lucky you! I too benefited from vocational rather careerist types, from those who chose to teach after they’d left the armed forces. The English master regaled us with tales of staying alive keeping the beaches clear by day then helping the people and materiel ashore by night in the about to be created Israel. Another was loosely attached to the army as a linguist, in 1945 he was jeeping around what was left of Berlin finding and helping the surviving members of the German Underground where the favoured local currency for food and medicine were the cartons of cigarettes conveniently liberated from the US bases. The collective vision of all those teachers was to equip as all for the evolving post war world.

    English was one of the foundations of those educational efforts!

    I totally agree with the Thurber comment:a very few writers such as the late Hitchens and the ever delightful Stephen Fry use words to communicate meaning whereas far too many seem to believe that dazzling with erudition is a prerequisite for establishing literary renown. and then bitch about those like Stephen King his words bring riches. I have been unable to remember the guy’s name but a doyen of the TEFL world used the phrase something like “there is only one rile in the English language – did the communication succeed or fail” to get the attention of the non-native English pedagogues he was lecturing about the art and science of teaching English to foreigners. He would continue to the effect that grammar was not nearly as important as actual communication, so meting of a heresy to an audience that had spent its life (self)absorbed by grammatical nuance.

    And you’re right, again, writing does help lift depression although my current keyboard time is probably an indicator that my overall mood is lifting- perhaps I’ve stumbled into a benign circle where?

    I hope that you staying warm on this cold day, David

    • Most of my teachers, too, were ex-forces – the English teacher ex-RAF. Problem was, most of them were so busy reminiscing they forgot stuff – like actually teaching us anything! Add that to the fact I missed about a third of my education to illness, and the secondary school wasn’t finished until I was 12, so we trod water in the primary for a useless year, and I’m surprised any of us did as well as we ultimately did.

      We were chiselled out of our GCEs though. The law required four years of secondary education, we’d done three, so we’d have to do an extra year (how? there were no facilities), before we could study for our GCEs, which meant we’d be doing them when most of our peers had either been working for years, or in rare cases, were off to uni. It also meant, when we finally hit the employment market, we’d be in a position where employers could choose equally qualified kids, younger than us, for less money. It was a no-win situation, especially as the chances of most of us going on to A-levels and then to uni were vanishingly small, and a lot of us needed to get out there and start earning (my father had died when I was 12). Luckily, in those days, for most employers ability counted for more than paper.

      So they cobbled up an examination just for us (with hindsight, we were guinea-pigs), called the Certificate of Secondary Education, and it was so easy most of us aced it (though, of course, it left us with quals that no prospective employer had ever heard of!). And if that really did go on to become the GCSE, as I suspect, then I have to agree with the critics, it was easier than the GCE it replaced, at least as far as my knowledge extended – to GCE English papers.

      One thing that’s always galled me, though, is a total inability to make my writing pay. Mind you, I didn’t start writing seriously – as in writing every day – until 2004, when I built a website as an overflow area for a magazine column I wrote for the ME Association (cheap sods wouldn’t even pay their contributors with free membership). But I can’t, never have been able to, write fiction – not even if someone put a gun to my head.

      I think I’d have made a pretty good journalist though . . .

      Ron.

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