It took Fiona Stapleton at least an hour on Friday mornings to get herself “done”. It was not just adding the right accessories to her uniform of skinny jeans, Tod’s loafers and gilet, but also the need to get her hair and face exactly right (casual and understated, yet immaculate and expensive). She was, after all, going to Waitrose.
Her weekly shop was both non-secular (because she worshipped at Waitrose’s consumer altar) and secular (as it was virtually as advanced a social proving ground as Ascot, just without the hats). And Friday was yummy-mummy day. This was not only because it was the best day to do a weekend shop, but also because on Saturdays the store was crowded with weekenders and working families. She also tried to avoid the rest of the week. On Mondays the shelves were half-empty, on Tuesdays the store was chock-a-block with the dreadful hunting crowd (the only day apart from Sunday that they didn’t hunt); it clashed with her book club on Wednesdays and was lousy with pernickety pensioners on Thursdays.
Today was exeat. That afternoon Fiona was picking up her daughter, Allegra, and two girlfriends from Calcot Hall, so she planned to buy a weekend’s worth of food suitable for teenage divas obsessed by dieting but with appetites to match those of a Tongan dining club.
It was her usual routine: drive the five miles to her nearest store, take the green Waitrose heavy-duty, environmentally friendly shopping bags from the boot of her black Range Rover, place them in a large shopping trolley to wheel through the air-conditioned porch into the first of the market’s sceptred aisles, where the fruit and vegetables were displayed. There Fiona chose organic cherry tomatoes on the vine and a small locally farmed ridge cucumber to liven up the ready-made (but organic) bags of Caesar salad that she intended as the accompaniment to the supermarket’s own Heston Blumenthal beef burgers (“specially minced to ensure the meat’s grain all sits vertically”), before moving on to the speciality section and picking up a packet of black-bean wholemeal chimichangas as a treat for herself.
Whatever she plucked from the shelves was scrutinised not only for nutritional content, calories and organic credentials, but also for its social cachet. For Fiona was as label conscious about her groceries as she was about her clothes; she’d no sooner put a Mr Kipling Angel Slice into her basket than she would don a Uniqlo puffer jacket on the slopes of Val d’Isère. In truth, Fiona considered herself a cut above the average Waitrose shopper for the deep consciousness she showed as to which charity box she chose for her green plastic token, dispensed as a sort of sacrament after she had paid.
Leaving her trolley next to the Duchy Originals cordials to make a quick run down the fresh pasta aisle, she bumped into her good friend Lotte Butler. The two women were concerning themselves with the rather adventurous potential of the chickpea fusilli with the “Intensely Italian” basil pesto when they caught sight of chubby Lucy Holmes, who also had a child at Calcot Hall, dressed in an ancient checked shirt and what appeared to be tracksuit bottoms. “She lives off fast food,” sneered Lotte, reaching for a Puglia-inspired pizza with (organic) chargrilled peppers and Sant’Agostino olives.
After popping a couple of bottles of sparkling Torres Viña Sol Rosé into her trolley, Fiona paid, packed and was loading the car when she remembered she had forgotten to get some Big Tom juice for Sunday’s Bloody Marys. She trotted back inside, grabbed a bottle and, rather than bother with the self-scanning system, joined the checkout queue – right behind where Lucy Holmes was emptying her basket.
“My Mary is back for exeat,” said Lucy. “Why doesn’t Allegra pop over tomorrow? If you carry on loading my things, I’ll get some of those cheese strings they love so much.”
“Well, I’m not…” Fiona stammered as Lucy dashed off, leaving her in the queue, loading a conveyor belt’s worth of Essential Waitrose breaded cutlets, Coke Zero bottles, Jaffa Cakes, coronation-chicken-flavoured crisps and a supersize box of Mr Kipling Angel Slices into Lucy’s plastic Tesco bags… which is exactly how Lotte Butler found Fiona a few moments later.