AT THE SUPERMARKET
I went to a prestigious supermarket near my home town in the south of England today and couldn’t find the aisle displaying butter. A smartly dressed man with a Brand label on his coat signifying his name was Roger passed by and I asked for help.
“Certainly Sir”, he replied. “Please follow me”
I did and we soon reached the right aisle whereupon I thanked him for his help and said I wished all staff were as helpful and courteous as he had been.
“Oh?” he said, in an enquiring tone of voice.
So I told him about the unfamiliarity with some products of another staff member to whom I had appealed for help on an earlier occasion and that sometimes I found this store didn’t stock items I would like to buy. I also explained how I’d sometimes been frustrated by the absence of a ‘partner’ on the Deli Counter – all staff in the Corporate Group who own the supermarket I was visiting are ‘Partners’ in the business. That’s an ownership model I admire and one of the reasons I shop there.
He kept remarkably cool and responded positively but firmly to all these remarks. He explained there is a strong demand for relatively unskilled workers in the area and employee turnover is high. That results in some being on duty before their training can be completed. The limited range was because this is only a small store and achieving productivity targets is hard, especially at times of day such as late evening when there are few customers for specialist purchases.
I understood all these points and said so, adding that I was surprised he was able to provide this detailed explanation of problems that must affect many retail management businesses. I acknowledged I wasn’t expecting a range of products and level of service that might be available to rich folk who could afford to shop at Harrods or Fortnum and Mason’s.
He went on to tell me he was the Branch Manager here who had been born in Hexham and previously lived – in Newcastle he said at first.
That set me off about how I had once worked in Gateshead (where he had actually lived but described as Newcastle). I had lived at the time in a village near Hexham and had liked that old town, for its own history, the Roman Wall nearby, and the glorious Northumberland countryside.
I was also a devoted and loyal customer of Murray’s Fish and Game shop on Battle Hill in the town (they were a bellicose lot in that region in the old days – some would say they still are although I understand the practice of cross-border raiding and rustling cattle has declined a lot since then).
Ronnie Murray had stocked his shop at 04:30 each morning after making the return journey of 60 miles to buy fresh fish from the trawlers that had docked overnight in North Shields. Sadly, he had been unable to compete when Tesco launched a new store in the town with its own fish counter. But his business was bought by another local family – Ridley’s – who still operate from an Industrial Estate nearby and sell at a number of street markets in the region.
This store manager responded to my remark I thought he only changed the shop layout to make customers walk down aisles they wouldn’t normally visit, He agreed that was partly true but the change was also because the Government have recently introduced additional regulations limiting the positions at which products with a high sugar and fat content can be displayed.
Naturally that led on to a discussion of other ways in which the Government helps citizens live their daily lives with attention currently focussed on the cost of living crisis for which Government itself is obviously not responsible.
I explained that might lead to my abandonment of shopping at this store and reliance instead on food-banks outside one or other of the less prestigious supermarkets nearby.
We also discussed the current Electricity Supply problems and how that must be sending supermarket costs through the roof because of the power required to keep all their chilled and frozen compartments working, and so on.
He was surprised when I said Sizewell C whose construction approval was announced only yesterday by Boris Johnson wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the current crisis because it would not be on stream soon enough.
For comparison, Hinkley Point C was approved in 2016 and it is currently hoped it will start producing power in 2025 – a period of 9 years during which large numbers of older nuclear and coal-fired power stations have been closed.
That doesn’t mean the decisions to build these stations were bad ones, just that they were taken some 20-25 years too late in the mistaken belief the wind would blow constantly and continuously, and that gas would always be cheaply available from a sufficient number of friendly countries.
The store manager also enquired about the modular Nuclear Reactors Rolls Royce are currently promoting. Well, I knew quite a lot about that too, and about the use of RB211 gas turbines as pumps in gas and oil supply pipe-lines, and as fast start-up generators in the event of electric grid instability problems. Small Modular Reactors are expensive when built singly but costs would come down if a production line of many could be established. That might help a lot from 2030 onwards if a decision to start is taken soon – which seems unlikely.
My interlocutor’s parting remark was that if I had experienced the same difficulties in finding the butter display in one of the less prestigious supermarkets I’d not have had the opportunity for such an interesting conversation because their managers didn’t go walk-about and stayed in their offices all the time.
So, altogether, we had a high old time during which he told me he was pleased to get real feedback from a real customer because so many market surveys are very unreliable. We also agreed everything should be sorted out by Christmas because Liz Truss would be in charge next week.
Soon afterwards I went to the Deli-counter, planning to buy some Wiltshire Ham and a Cheddar cheese I particularly like, but there was no ‘partner’ present. An elderly lady customer also arrived and we looked at one another and shrugged our shoulders.
Then the store manager came by at a later stage of his walkabout. I smiled and said to him – its not evening yet – he returned my smile (or was it a grimace?) and in less than a minute a ‘partner’ appeared to help us.
I said to the elderly lady customer – “Well, I’ve got to buy something after that, but you don’t have to”. Then I did, and as I moved on so did she.
The next part of this story concerns my arrival at the check-out counter when ahead of me in the queue was a fit-looking middle-aged man who was transferring from his trolley to cardboard boxes on the counter, bottle after bottle of Rose and White wines with lots of fresh berries, cream and half-shell meringues.
I said to him – “Looks like you’re getting married – I hope it goes well”. He just grinned back and carried on transferring his purchases. I next said to him ” I’ve got a few bottles myself …..”, pointing to my own trolley, “……but unfortunately, I’ll have to drink it all on my own”. He grinned again and picked out his last bottle labelled “Armagnac” – “This is the one for me he said”. We had a great grin in each direction as he went off with his shopping and it was my turn at the check-out desk.
The culmination of my expedition came about as I drove towards the car-park exit. I saw an elderly lady packing her own shopping into the boot of her car in the same row I was slowly driving along.
You’ve guessed it – she was the lady I’d previously met in the store to whom I said as I wound down my window and came to a temporary stop – “I hope you enjoy your purchases at the Deli-Counter”. My reward was a beaming smile that made her look thirty years younger.
This was a story, as they say on “The Archers”, about Simple Country Folk. But, at least it wasn’t gloomy and doom-laden. I hope you enjoyed it.
AT HOME AFTERWARDS
I was very pleased to receive an email this evening telling me the Government has introduced a new Service for all Citizens.
It is analagous to the Weather Forecasts issued by the Met Office but this one is a Power Cut Forecast issued by UK Power Networks on behalf of the Department of Energy.
This scheme is still in the early stages of development though and doesn’t make any specific forecasts for the week ahead. I expect that will follow soon.
Fortunately, they say help will be available for people with special needs. The only ground on which I think I would qualify is that I am a pensioner. On second thoughts perhaps I could get my son to claim for me on the grounds I’m suffering from the early stages of dementia which does qualify, because I keep expressing doubts about the value of the new service.
Of course, the Treasury already know my name, date of birth, physical address, savings, annual income and so on.
The Department of Transport similarly know a lot of the same information.
The Department of Health knows my full medical history as well.
The Foreign Office holds a lot of information too because I used to go overseas a lot. Of course, I haven’t been able to do so in recent years because of restrictions on freedom to travel. That won’t make much difference because my passport expired recently and I understand the application I’ve made for a new one will take a long time to be considered before I know whether I shall be allowed to leave the country if other restrictions are lifted.
So does the Home Office because, regrettably, I have to tell you that once or twice I have been apprehended by the police for exceeding a speed limit.
The Culture Department are also keeping their beady eye on me for cancelling my Licence to watch live TV when the BBC started charging over 75’s to do so.
I’m not sure why the Department of Energy need very nearly all the same information but perhaps it is to help me understand the advantages of having a “free” smart meter installed in my home as well as early warning of power cuts. I had thought I was already paying for that through my power bills, and subsidies to rich land-owners who had allowed wind-generator and solar panel plants to be installed on their land.
But I’m very tempted to supply the information anyway because special help during periods of power shortage will depend upon it.
After all, we live in a”A Free Country” and “An Englishman’s Home is his Castle”.
A modern Home and Castle needs a secure and reliable power supply at modest cost, if only to be able to apply for help to the various departments of Government and their agencies both direct and indirect. Perhaps I should also buy a mobile ‘phone and download the ‘Apps’ the various branches have developed, so I can access the benefits of all the attractive schemes dreamt up to help me.
I expect there will now be many new ones added and that an “Axe will be taken to Red Tape”, as Liz trust restores “True Conservative Government”.
Fond Wishes for the Weekend,
© Pooter Parkin 2021