Retail Therapy


A recent meeting in London saw me catching up with a mate whom I hadn’t seen for a few years, and over a few beers the old war stories of the good old days were revisited. We used to work in a shop. A nice shop that sold toy trains basically, and there were some good life lessons to be learnt along the way.

Shops are funny things, they’re sometimes like a house except they have ‘stuff’ in them to buy. Other times they’re like a factory with ‘worker’ants just filling the shelves up. All they want to do is sell ‘stuff’ and move on to the next set of ‘stuff’. These are known as ‘box shifters’ Well the sort of shops I like are the older style, one owner and some staff. There, there are men with white lab coats puffing on pipes, (oh, they’re not allowed to do that now), saying ‘marvellous’ at regular intervals. The sort of coat you’ll see on a BBC boffin announcing something terribly important in a perfect clipped English accent. These, are called ‘proper model shops’

The shops are frequented by customers of all shapes, sizes and smells, a high ninety percentile of them, male. The fairer sex are occaisionally seen in mid winter plumage in December in the run up to christmas, furtively darting between the stale testosterone and wee sodden male of the species, as they hunt for their quarry, red and yellow or blue boxes.

Once caught they secrete, (that’s girls hiding it, not blokes oozing it), their quarry in a bag, and depart wondering what it is that draws so many males, as a candle to a moth. As they jostle toward the counter, encountering the smell of unwashed, (breath through your mouth love, you won’t smell it, trust me …), bodies, colostomy bags etc, they’ll have to cross the path of the customer self appointed expert. You know the one who leans on the counter all chuffin day, butts into every conversation, (sterotype alert), lives alone, or with his mum and always/never buys the latest release, moans about, how poor it is, how much better the one in the blue/red box is, he’s got one started but never finished, his mates done a brilliant one, ‘better than that’, type of guy.

The true expert of course is frequently behind the counter, and may be a dying breed. After all there’s fewer shops for them to practice their sometimes (May, June July, August, September) monastic existence. Its at these quiet times of year that their search for excellence, and yearning for new challenges, needs to be constructively harnessed in the solace of a quiet shop. No longer can these searches for ones ‘inner self’ take place without state interference. There was a time when grunting from behind the counter meant some strenuous personal endeavor was being undertaken, rather than it being the reply from the member of staff. Managers today are expected to be totally ‘target’ driven, and have no need to check the ceiling for wet, muddy footprints, from staff attempting amateur gymnastics with a set of conveniently placed parallel bars, keeping shelves apart, out of customer sight by the telephone.

No. Oppressive H&S reviews and legislation have largely stopped the delights of seeing a colleague (as they are called now), risk certain spinal paralysis, hanging upside down, five feet off a concrete floor and straining with all their might to match another ‘colleagues’ foot prints on the ceiling. Gone are the days of howls of pain, and indeed laughter, as a ‘colleague’ is escorted from the shop with a broken arm and mild concussion by an ambulance man, followed by a grim ‘serves you right, you bloody idiot’ from the manager. Today it’ll be to cries of ‘I’ll sue you’, towards the manager, as the injured party, (‘Tripped at work? call lawyers 4U etc etc), escorted by a paramedic, is bundled into an ambulance because the bar actually broke with a 16 stone chimp hanging from it. Unsurprisingly you’ll find the shops H&S manual failing to mention that dropping five feet onto your head on a concrete floor might actually hurt.

I do wonder where the H&S assessors of the future will hone the tools and intuition to identify footprints on the ceiling, a bar underneath it, two breathless red faced ‘colleagues’ with forehead veins bulging, no recent heavy stock delivery, and the connection. That sort of ‘risk’ being way outside their imagination, experience, or comfort zone.

The youth of yesterday eh? For more tales of the trade see here …

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4 Responses to Retail Therapy

  1. Phil Ramsay says:

    That was when yoofs were real yoofs, not jumped up little ‘orrors that mostlyl think they can be a celeb (some exceptions of course but we never see them as they are too busy being good and nice and hardworking).

    Drake @ 36E

  2. This sounds like a confessional. Not the kind of career ending-stuff like throwing bangers out of the back of a works van at 05:30 that I endulged in. 😉

  3. neilsidea says:

    I think you a tot of Christmas spirit!
    There used to be an ironmongers in Colchester that was staffed by men in brown coats, pipe smokers all, like the two Ronnies ‘4 candles’ sketch. They patrolled behind a long wooden counter behind them a wall of drawers disappearing in a fog up to the ceiling. Each drawer had a brass handle that took small card inserts itemising the contents. Pale sunlight filtered through the dust laden air as Bert or Jim or maybe Wilfred shuffled backwards and forwards, opening each drawer and bringing forth a few screws, bolts or strange shaped piece of metal wrapped in brown, oiled paper. A large red set of scales with gleaming brass scoop sat at one end of the counter to weigh the screws with a few extra thrown in for good measure. Long gone now in the redevelopment of the town centre.
    But all is not lost! Here in the far south west of France in the nearest small town to our house called Garlin there is a quinquillerie which all manner of stuff. Run by Christine, a short round lady wearing a flowery pinny, there are shelves out the back full of old wine boxes with everything the DIYer could possibly want. Odd bits of pipe, lengths of wood and sheets of plastic are stacked and lent against large cardboard boxes. Being in the middle of a farming community there are many weird shaped lumps of rusting metal and if you need anything cut or welded this can be achieved while you wait. Leaning on the old counter will likely be one of the good old boys, toothpick inserted below a big drooping moustache, greasy black beret perched at a rakish angle on a large bald head and resplendent in what once may have been a blue boiler suit. Targets are what he shoots at in the woods on a Sunday morning (large and covered in hair) and have no relevance to the shop.

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