Saturday, 31 July 2010

Of bigotry, class struggle and counter-insurgency

Here’s a tale of two shops which explores social attitudes in the Isle of Man, and also gives evidence that even the dispossessed can hit back from time to time.

Tale 1 – a customer in one of the island’s most decrepit charity shops approaches the counter with some items, none priced above 50p. In an obvious foreign accent she asks the bored pearl and twin-set volunteer cashier to wait a moment while she checks she has enough change to pay. The cashier ignores her to carry on conversing with another chinless wonder, punches in the numbers and rings up the total. The customer, having now sorted her change, finds she’s about 10p short.
BP&TS snaps “Well, you’ll have to put something back then”, folds her arms and sticks her nose in the air for all the world as if the innocent customer had loudly farted. The customer scans through all her potential purchases, rejects a 30p child’s T-shirt, places it carefully back on the rack, pays for the rest and puts the extra 20p in the charity tin anyway. All this while both damish dullards watch her as if to check no major shoplifting was going on.
I’m tempted to name the shop but I won’t. Suffice to say that as the charity has a royal patron it attracts the island’s most vacuous social climbers, none of whom have held down paid employment or would know enough about retail to cover the back of a matchbox. This might explain why (a) their shops are too untidy and poorly stocked to attract even the most desperate council estate pensioner and (b) the ‘charity balls’ where their supporters pat each other’s backs make no serious cash.

Tale 2 – five minutes before closing time today in one of the island’s most customer-friendly businesses, and the tannoy announces the store is closing so please make your way to the exit. This place is famously open seven days a week, every day of the year except Christmas Day, and if the staff don’t have the very thing you want they’ll not only get it but ring you to say it’s in and, if you can’t collect, have someone drop it round when it suits you. Me and Her Indoors are at the counter, paying off just such a special order.
An Afrikaner, dressed in the kind of over-priced tat no self-respecting benefit-fraudster would be seen dead in, decides to inform its equally hideous rugrat and spouse that this is a major inconvenience and it really can’t understand why a store would close at the very time on the very day when customers like it choose to visit.
After announcing this at foghorn volume it reaches for the door handle. At the same second the index finger of the shop manager’s hand slides under the counter. Mysteriously, the shop door will not open and so the Afrikaner looks increasingly vexed.
“Don’t worry, Madam, my colleague will be along to let you out just as soon as he is free”, calls the shop manager, soothingly.
‘MC’, hidden safely from sight in an office behind the counter, raises an eyebrow to us, carries on reading his paper and refills his mug with coffee. After about another minute, as we at the counter turn our back to the irate woman in a struggle to hold back our giggles, he saunters out with a large key, with which he pretends to open the door as the manager’s finger releases the security button.
“Thank you for waiting, Madam, do please come and see us again at a more convenient time” calls ‘MC’ to the three vanishing atrocities. As the door clicks shut all of us explode with suppressed laughter.
For obvious reasons I would not identify the store. Just thank the staff for proving to downtrodden decent folk that, even on the Isle of Man, from time to time we can always cut the great and the good who misrule this place down to size.

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