Monday, 14 November 2011

Polite, helpful, friendly shopkeepers? No; Bernice

The other Friday, I wanted some sweeties, so I went to the shop. It was lunch time, so myself and a very dear friend of mine made the short journey to the shops. It all looked like being a very enjoyable period of my life; all good friends and jolly good company 'n' all that. We made pleasant chit chat on our little afternoon constitutional, ranging from the very idle (the virtues of cheesy chips over classic salt and vinegar, which, when balanced with the fact that they charge an extra 30p to melt some pretend cheese onto your chips, are precious few) to the slightly more deep (God stuff- you don't wanna know). That's just the way we are.

So we walked along the relative calm of the road that goes to the shops, taking care to avoid the puddles, the sweaty men emerging from the gym in the midst of a mid life crisis and realisation that they are no longer very attractive to the opposite sex, and middle class, Range Rover driving, Aga owning, mumsnet-using women dropping off PE kit that their little daaaaarlings have managed to forget and need for show-jumping that afternoon at the posh Preparatory School. 'Oh you aaaare so forgetful Henry! Don't forget to give Lucas and Oscar a kiss from mummy. And make sure Tabitha has her Cayenne Pepper, or her Brined Roast Pheasant Outdoor Wisconsin Style she's making in Food Technology won't be nearly so Wisconsin Style will it? There's a good boy. Kiss for mummy. Mwah! Okay goodbye my daaaaarling. Mwah mwah.'
You know the sort.

Anyhoo, we walked past them before hearing the dull roar of the main road that the shops are on, and our brief period of quietness was over. Sam (he's the dear friend) had decided he would go to the chip shop, so we parted ways whilst I went into a store of an un-named multi-national shopping corporation. For the purposes of law and stuff, I shall not use their real name. I shall call them the No-op. So I went in, and a very strange atmosphere greeted me. There was nobody in there, save for an ample looking woman stacking the shelves, which is unusual for a shop in such a prime location. Nevertheless, I pressed on.
Now this woman, her name badge revealed, was called Bernice... I know, I thought it was weird too. Now Bernice and I may never have had our paths cross to such an extent, but for the fact that she was stood in the sweetie aisle (where I wanted to be), stacking bars of Snickers. On account of Bernice's girth, combined with No-op's narrow aisles, I had no way of bypassing her, and getting to the Kinder Happy Hippo I desired.
In this situation, one would have expected Bernice to perhaps stand up or breathe in or something to let me past. After all, it's not as if there was much rush for those Snickers. But no, Bernice did not, so we stood there awkwardly, each aware of the others' presence but unable to do anything about it. Well the awkwardness became too much for me, so I decided I would make a light-hearted, polite comment to relax the situation, whilst reminding Bernice that I was in fact there to buy stuff. 'I probably should have decided what to get before I got in your way.' was my best effort. I was under pressure! Had I been Bernice, the minimum I would have done here is let out one of those little snorts that says 'that's not funny, but you spoke to me in a light hearted way so I shall acknowledge it with this noise and a small forced smirk in your direction'. If we still lived in the old days of Arkwright, G-G-G-Granville etc., Bernice would have suggested some of their finest confectionery, and knocked threpence off the price as reward for my politeness.
Given the usually high standards of the No-op, I expected Bernice's reaction to be towards the Arkwright end of that scale. It was not. It was not even on that scale. Bernice didn't even acknowledge me. No look up. No smirk. No snort. No nothing. Bernice carried on stacking Snickers without even recognising my existence. I was livid. I considered- no, seriously considered- leaving. Only a glance into the eyes of the Happy Hippo, longing to be bought and eaten, convinced me to stay. So I stayed and silently fumed in the direction of Bernice. (I just realised, that sounds like I farted. Oh how immature I am!)
Eventually, Bernice stopped stacking Snickers and, still without looking at me, ambled over to the till, allowing me to get to my Hippo. As I went to pay, I had resolved to give Bernice a second chance. I decided that I would make a mess of finding the correct change, so I could apologise to Bernice, and give Bernice chance to tell me it was fine. Perhaps to snort, perhaps to tell me not to worry, perhaps to smile, perhaps to apologise for her past sins. Phase 1 went well, it took me forever to find my 39p. Phase 2 went well, I did one of those giggling embarrassed apologies. Phase 3, Bernice's bit, was a disaster. Bernice did react this time, but only by sticking Bernice's hand out, and continuing to gaze out of the window and chew Bernice's gum. I could have hit her. Instead, I paid and left without my usual word of entirely gratuitous but polite thanks. It seemed such a concept did not exist there.

Conclusive proof, then, that the age of the friendly corner shop owner, of the Arkwrightian and G-G-G-Granvillian ilk, is over. Instead, Bernice and her breed of rude, unhelpful, unpleasant little people have taken over the world of shops. Next they'll take over the world, mark my words.

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