You walk in with a plan. You leave with GPS-tracking Nordic hiking poles. The same old story, eh?

Please hold me back from the discount aisle in case I buy a USB desk fan


Something for the Weekend, Sir? I am standing in the middle of a supermarket, holding my tool. It's important that the security cameras see that I am waving my tool around. This is to avoid any embarrassment.

OK, you've guessed the punchline: I am trying to compare my old folding set of hex keys with a new set I spotted yesterday on the discount aisle. Unfortunately in the space of 24 hours they have already sold out, withdrawn faulty stock or simply given up selling them and moved on to the next thing. I missed my chance and I am left standing there disappointedly – one might even say impotently – tool in hand.

The discount aisle is an innovation introduced by new management. This particular mini-supermarket, my nearest to home, used to be a grubby, dimly lit hell hole of pasta and ready-meals, and whose "Herbs and Spices" shelf was only ever stocked with salt or pepper. It used to have a discount shelf – well, more of a wobbly table near the checkout, really – that may as well have been labelled "Torn-Open Biscuit Packets" or "Broken Things".

The shop was taken over by a larger chain earlier this year and is now a refurbished, air-conditioned retail space stocked with unfamiliar and unpronounceable European brands, yet still apparently unable to sell ground cumin. The biggest change is that there is now a vast aisle running the full length of the floor that is piled untidily (I suspect, deliberately so) with low-cost and low-quality non-food items such as kitchen gadgets, garden accessories and home decoration materials.

Trust me, you wouldn't want any of this shit.

Yet every time I nip in to buy nothing more than a few tomatoes, I inevitably find myself passing through checkout with an armful of impulse purchases picked up from the discount aisle. A new doormat that doesn't fit any doorstep. A hexagonal oven dish. A screwdriver toolbox that's just a little bit too short to fit my screwdrivers into. A power block whose sockets are too close together so I can only use half of them.

It could be much, much worse. I could be going home with a contactless rechargeable coffee grinder, an app-controlled salad spinner or a pair of Nordic hiking poles with integrated GPS.

The last-named product obviously needs to be paired to a smartphone. Given that your smartphone already has integrated GPS, it's anyone's guess why the hiking poles need its own as well, unless they intend going on a trek by themselves. Mind you, that's no sillier than the classic USB-powered desktop fan – a device that inexplicably draws so much power that it causes your laptop to overheat so you end up pointing the fan directly back at the USB port it is plugged into.

The habit of entering into an undertaking with a plan only to emerge with something quite different is a common human trait. I am in good company. Spencer Elden's recent threat of court action against the surviving members of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain's estate reminded me how common this is.

Spencer was the swimming baby on the front cover of Nevermind.

Despite being too young at the time to hammer out a proper model release contract with the photographer, Spencer has been known to dine out on his accidental fame. You can imagine what a great conversation opener it must be: a previous generation might have been equally impressed if you told them you were one of the children on the cover of Houses of the Holy.

However, Spencer is now 30 years old and a bit pissed off that he didn't make any actual money from the photo shoot. His lawsuit labours not so much on this as the claim that he was a victim of sexual exploitation. By letting millions of people see his four-month-old willy, the album cover is nothing less than child pornography, according to his lawyer.

I think this is a brilliant scheme. If it works, I am all in for joining a class action by all men in the world against our own mothers for showing off embarrassing photos to family and strangers alike of us doing our first poo on a potty. We could all call in our first serious girlfriends as witnesses.

While I'm at it, I might sue my mum for breaking my teeth.

She didn't do this in a violent rage. She did it by offering me a slice of home-baked loaf that she'd made in a bread maker, an impulse purchase from the bargain aisle of her local supermarket. While modern washing machines can sense when you have put delicates on the wrong programme, this cheapo bread maker was unable to detect that my mum had laced the wholemeal dough with seeds, cereals and gravel.

I remember the event to this day. I went to visit mater and pater back in the castle with the intention of fulfilling the usual filial obligations: assuring Mum that I was eating enough (not enough gravel for her liking, apparently) and trying to explain yet again to Dad what I did for a living. "So you make computers?" he'd ask every time. No, Dad, I'm a journalist for personal computing magazines. "So you interview computers?" No, I just review them and write about them. "And people read that, do they?" etc.

While I will not be buying a tooth-breaker, sorry, bread maker any time soon the supermarket is evidently honing into its target buyer based on customer data. This is a polite way of admitting that they can see me coming. Recent additions to the mountains of junk include USB adapters, rechargeable batteries and cable ties. And increasingly specific screwdriver sets supporting obscure screw types that no normal person would be aware of.

These are just for me, nobody else. This is just as well as I have so far been unable to purchase any of the clothing items on offer. I'm not so proud that I won't wear a €3 T-shirt, but the smallest size they sell is XXXXXXXL – which gives you an idea of the typical shopper in this particular store. I had considered buying a pair of the men's boxers and use it as an armchair cover.

No problem, I'll just stick with my current set of hexes.

As I head down the aisle towards the exit, I try not to be diverted by the new crap that arrived on the discount shelves that morning. I don't have time for th…

Oh look, I might need one of those! And what's that? Oh that'll be handy one day, I'm sure.

I waddle out of the store 15 minutes later, arms stuffed with cable splitters, a retractable hosepipe, a voltage meter, four sets of Christmas LED lights (white only), two no-brand robot vacuum cleaners and an IoT portable yoghurt maker.

At home, Mme D asks if I remembered to pick up some tomatoes.

Oh, whatever, never mind.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. The one place you can't make an impulse purchase is the Apple Store. Nobody says "Oh look, there's a USB adapter going for €80, that'll make a great stocking filler." More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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