Western Morning News
Shopping never used to be like this...
WE are, if nothing else, a nation that remains rooted in routines and traditions. And at this time of year, after the Christmas period, comes the sales.
I’ve never really been that much of a bargain hunter. I would never want to be one of those people who waits outside their favourite shop at 7am on a January morning to make sure I am first through the doors.
But I don’t mind a stroll around the mall or a saunter down the high street with some purchases in mind, especially if I have some Christmas money clutched in my palm and can stop halfway round for a coffee and a slice of cake.
Thanks to you-know-what, of course, it is all different at the moment (I am already sick of saying it), but with Devon and Cornwall spared from Tier Four restrictions – this was well before Boris’s announcement last night – I decided it could still be worth a trip to the shops during the post-Christmas lull recently.
I keep telling anyone who will listen that nothing surprises me any more, but even I was a little taken aback by how different the shopping experience was on my recent trip. I realised there would be no sit-down halfway for a coffee and cake – with cafés takeaway only – and I knew I would be wearing a mask for most of my time in town, to the extent that I didn’t bother taking it off apart from when I was in the car.
But, even with all that, it was a sobering experience.
The mall – Plymouth’s Drake Circus, for the record – featured a number of empty shop units, which managers had gamefully tried to hide with giant hoardings proclaiming that an exciting new store was ‘coming soon’.
Then, getting to the shop you were aiming for involved a careful negotiation of the one-way system, knowing where you could cross from one side of the walkway to the other, and trying not to go the wrong way.
Signs everywhere blare at you to ‘keep moving’ with no stopping or waiting. Goodness knows what you do if you get split up from one of your party. Keep going, I suppose.
Then, it seemed that the shops themselves were struggling to supply sufficient levels of stock – at least, the ones I went in.
A new pair of shoes? “Sorry, we don’t have them in your size,” said the salesman. “No, not in the other colour, either. In fact there are only 20 pairs in the whole country. You can order them online and they will be delivered to you some time next week?”
Hmm, you’d want to try them on first, I think. So thanks, but no.
The next shop I was aiming at was only three doors down, but going in the wrong direction to the giant arrows on the floor. So around the shopping centre it was again, going in the opposite direction to where you wanted to go, before walking a big loop.
This time, it was the Apple shop. I wanted to ask about a new phone. Exciting. “I’m sorry, but we are open for click and collect only,” said the tall security man. He was young, but apologetic about the fact we couldn’t even go inside the store.
So how I am supposed to get all the contents of one phone on to the new one without one of their clever members of staff? I give up.
Outside is a shop selling the sort of coat I am looking for. Except they only have my size in two different styles. First-world problems, I know, but still irksome for a once-a-year purchase. I get one anyway.
Then there is the conundrum of getting back to the car. The stairs are down only, and the lifts have a queue waiting for them, including people with pushchairs who clearly need a lift more than I do.
I chance it up the stairs, feeling guilty. Perhaps I should have arrived at 7am.
The next shop I wanted was only three doors down, but in the wrong direction to the arrows