Saturday, 10 January 2009

Happy Shopper

As a kid, I used to visit the Quality Shop. This emporium was owned by a kindly, middle-aged man with half-moon glasses, who wore cardigans. The Quality Shop sold sweets the like of which you rarely see today, stored in big jars. The man didn't mind waiting while careful thought took place over value for money on a limited budget - two shillings pocket-money - and if you bought loose sweets he'd weigh them out then drop a couple of extras in the bag. He always seemed cheerful, and he also sold Airfix aeroplane kits, which elevated him still further in my mind.

But today, things have changed.

I go into a mobile phone store. Behind the counter is a woman who deeply resents the interruption of her prattle with a colleague which my arrival eventually causes. If I ask her any remotely technical question - for example, how much is this phone? - she will either not know the answer, or will not disclose it. Finally, she offers me a manufacturer's brochure she has never read, which perhaps contains the information I require. As I turn to leave the shop she resumes her conversation where she left off. How I wish she could be forced to work on a commission-only basis, but I know this would in some way infringe her human rights. Sorry to have troubled you.

On to the bakery for a cream cake. Firstly I am offered a cake with no cream at all, and then a cake with disgusting synthetic cream supplied by ICI. After a brief staff meeting it is determined that all the real cream cakes have been sold. This information is given to me without the slightest regret.

In the butchers, the teenager runs his hand over the acne around his mouth, and then picks up sausages to sell them to me. His hair is 'styled' to make his head appear flat, like Herman Munster's. I leave the sausages in their pus-coated cage.

What is happening? Where are the ethics of retail upon which I was reared?

Surprisingly perhaps, the answer is, the local Asda; they can't do enough for you. The staff are cheerful and helpful and busy. If I appear confused - sometimes I can't read my own writing on the shopping list - I am swarmed on by concerned employees. If I ask where a product can be found, I am taken directly to it - not merely given vague instructions as to where it is, or might be. The pleasant, matronly lady at the checkout usually has a jolly word or two, and thanks to the badge on her left breast I know her by name. At least, I imagine it's her name.

The badge says, 'Pat'.

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