WE’RE used to hearing the announcement of the latest profits report for Marks and Spencer with the same doom-laden air of inevitability that Royal flunkeys once reserved for updates on the Queen Mum’s health.
And although the Leeds-born grand old lady of retailing is finally showing signs of a partial recovery, it’s no surprise to me that it’s mainly on the back of its food sales.
If you’re after a decent sarnie or salad then M&S is the place to go.
But based on my experience, if you’re looking for anything else it’s more like S&M – you’d have to be a sado masochist to tramp your way from floor to floor searching for something you may have no hope of ever finding.
I really didn’t think I was asking for the impossible. There was no tartan paint or left-handed screwdriver on my shopping list.
All I wanted was a pair of black shoes and a single duvet cover. Easy, wouldn’t you think?
Ok, so I am a size 12 shoe and the duvet had to be something suitable for a young child, but I didn’t reckon on it being mission impossible.
There were rows and rows of duvet covers downstairs – but not a single one of them was remotely suitable for a child’s bed.
“We used to stock them in store but we didn’t have enough space any more,” the assistant explained to me. This in a shop with three cavernous floors.
And then she came out with the stock phrase that every high street shopper has come to dread.
“You can always have a look online and order one from there.”
I tried to explain that I needed one for that night because my nephews were coming to stay at our house and we’d realised we were a duvet cover short.
“If you order today you can pick it up from the store tomorrow,” she assured me.
I could have wasted the next five minutes explaining that the whole point of me taking the time and effort to walk into town in my lunch break was so I could get what I needed when I needed it – today.
But I didn’t. There was still a pair of shoes to buy. So I headed for the escalators and made a beeline for the menswear department.
To be fair, there were lots of little signs on the shelves pointing me to the size 11s and 12s. The only slight niggle was that I couldn’t find the bigger size for love nor money.
Once again, I asked an assistant for, well, assistance.
“Everything we have is out,” she told me, motioning to the shelves.
“I’m just after a size 12 black shoe,” I pleaded. “Could you help me look?”
Bless her, she did. And she couldn’t find a pair either.
“I think they’re the ones with a red label,” she said, peering at the shelves. But we still drew a blank.
Then, right on cue, there was that phrase again. “You can always have a look online and order some from there.”
And it wasn’t just me. An elderly couple behind us were being told the same thing.
Again, I could have explained that I needed the shoes today as I was going to a wedding in a couple of days’ time, so if I ordered a pair and they didn’t fit me right I’d be in bother. But I didn’t. After all, it’s not shop staff’s fault that their managers are failing customers by constantly resorting to the “order it online” get-out clause.
There’s been a lot of talk about Britain’s disappearing high streets and the complaint that physical shops are dying out because everyone’s shopping online.
But if retailers provided a better standard of service in those shops then they wouldn’t be fighting to avoid closure – and the devastating impact on jobs that would have.
And anyway, shopping for things on the internet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Chances are you won’t be in when they deliver. Then, if it’s the wrong size or isn’t quite what you wanted, you have to go through the hassle of sending it back.
That’s why I took the trouble to make a one-and-a-half mile round trip on foot to Marks and Sparks. But I’m not sure I’ll be bothering again any time soon.
Hypocrisy of right-on Beeb
NOW there’s a shock. It turns out that the right-on, holier than thou BBC may not actually be quite so egalitarian as it would like us to think it is.
It’s been reported that staff at the Beeb are trading unpaid internships for teenagers with parents at other leading companies who return the favour by giving their own children a leg-up.
A case of you scratch my back, I’ll give your child a headstart in grabbing a job at the nation’s premier –not to mention publicly-funded – broadcaster.
Internships at the Corporation are highly prized among youngsters hoping for a job in the media and they fight tooth and nail to get one.
The BBC’s recruitment website explains to prospective interns that due to the high volume of applicants, only the best succeed.
But the fact some staff appear to have been using a £24-a-year website offering work experience ‘swaps’ in order to get similar opportunities for family members at other leading companies suggests that’s not always the case.
The BBC has a reputation for political correctness and, quite rightly, makes a point of creating opportunities for ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. But if this is what’s going on behind the scenes then it’s hypocrisy of the highest order.
The advertisements in question have since been removed, but they tell us it’s not the brightest and best who get on but the kids with parents in high places.
Surprised? Nope, me neither.
Oh no, here comes Judy Murray
I LOVE Wimbledon fortnight. Not least because it’s one of the few summer sports you can actually watch for free on terrestrial telly.
But once again its arrival brings with it the prospect of coming face to face with a truly terrifying sight.
No, not another one of John Inverdale’s open-necked shirts, but Andy Murray’s mum Judy in full flow.
Is it just me who finds this woman too intense for comfort? Not to mention feeling a bit uncomfortable with her fondness for grabbing some of the limelight for herself, like those toe-curling appearances on Strictly.
Apparently her popularity is finally on the up after a reinvention led by former Spice Girls mogul Simon Fuller.
I’m not convinced. And anyway, why do we hear so much about her and so little about Andy’s dad, who no doubt had just as much to do with making him the man he is today?
I guess it’s because he’s had the good sense to leave the spotlight to his son.