Keep your shirt on

My late father in law was enthusiastic about everything new until his very last days. Every day, he scoured the newspapers to discover the latest events happening in Bangalore. If I was visiting the family, I often accompanied him to events that events that caught Daddy’s eye.

For example, I accompanied to the launch of the new Tata Indica car. When we arrived in time for the launch, there was a large crowd waiting for the official launch. When they saw my aged father in law, dressed in a smart suit and wearing a tie, being supported by me and his walking stick, the crowd parted as did the Red Sea when Moses arrived on its shore. We were given the honour of being first to be allowed to sit in the new car model.

On another occasion, Daddy spotted that there was to be a huge shirt sale, at which customers, who brought an old shirt as part exchange, would be able to buy a new one at a substantial discount.

Before we set off, Daddy had to find a shirt that he was willing to part with. This was a lengthy business because he possessed a large collection of shirts, each one of which needed to be examined and considered. This task was difficult because almost all of his shirts were good quality and in good condition.

Eventually, a shirt was selected for sacrifice, and we set off.

There were many people and an enormous number of shirts at the sale. Daddy carefully examined what was on offer and kept selecting shirts and asking my opinion about them, flatteringly but unwisely overestimating my sartorial expertise.

The hours passed and time for eating lunch was approaching rapidly. After giving my opinion about many shirts, all of a lesser quality and beauty to the one he was going to exchange, I told him that the latest one that he was showing me was the one to buy. He bought it and handed his old shirt as part payment.

When we got back home, Daddy showed the family his new shirt. Nobody liked it. They were horrified that I had allowed him to buy such a ghastly shirt. Yet, Daddy loved it. He wore it often. The picture shows him wearing it, sitting with me in 2005 at the Bangalore Club.

Long lasting

A bunch of flowers

Brings endless happiness

And plenty of  good cheer

 

Back in the early 1990s when I was practising as a dentist in Kent and owned a house in Gillingham, my future wife and I visited the local superstore, the Savacentre. Its name has nothing to do with the River Sava that meets the River Danube near Belgrade in Serbia. The shopping mall in Kent is pronounced “saver-centre”.

We wanted to buy some flowers and approached a florist within one of the wide corridors of the mall. He had some blooms of a kind we had never noticed before. We asked him what they were, and his answer sounded like “owlstromeriya”.

We bought a bunch of these attractive flowers and asked him how long we should expect them to survive in a vase. He answered:
“No worries there. They’re good lasters.”

And, he was right.

Alstroemeria, or Lily of the Incas, are native to South America but I guess many of those on sale in the UK are grown elsewhere.

Misinterpretation

 

bright citrus close up color

 

In the 1960s, as a protest against the horrendous apartheid regime in South Africa, shoppers in the UK were asked not to buy produce from South Africa. This is a stry told to me by my late mother, who was born in South Africa but was completely disgusted with the prejudice against ‘black’ and other ‘non-white’ people in the country of her birth.

My mother was in a fruit store in a north London suburb. She saw a fellow customer take some oranges to the sales counter. The customer asked the shop keeper:

“Are these oranges from South Africa?”

“Definitely not, Ma’am.”

“Oh, that’s good. I’ll take them.”

Overhearing this conversation, my mother asked the lady who had just bought the oranges:

“What’s wrong with oranges from South Africa?”

The lady replied:

“You’re not supposed to buy them because they might have been touched by coloured people.”

My mother could not believe what she had heard.

This anecdote just goes to show how a simple message can be totally misinterpreted.

 

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

The dream coat

jacket

About 28 years ago, I was looking for a new winter coat or outdoor jacket. I knew that it had to be warm and have pockets both inside and outside the garment. One Saturday afternoon, I entered a clothing shop on London’s Oxford Street. A well-dressed male shop assistant politely listened to me explaining what I was seeking. He thought for a moment before saying:

“I know exactly what you need, sir”

“What?” I asked.

“What you need is a Dannimac.”

“I see,” I replied, not knowing what he was talking about.

“But, there’s only one problem, sir.”

“Yes. What?” I enquired.

“Well, sir, they don’t make them any more.”

I left the shop amused but without having purchased a coat.

Some months later, I was in New York City, still not having acquired the coat of my dreams. As prices seemed very reasonable in Manhattan, I decided to search for my coat there. I entered a shop that seemed well-stocked but not at the high end of the market, and then explained my requirements. When I mentioned the inside pockets, the chatty salesman interrupted me, saying:

“Inside pockets? Why do you need those? Are you some kind of private detective or maybe you’re a secret agent.”

I was not sure how to answer that, but I went away having bought a superb jacket that fulfilled all of my criteria. That puffy jacket with its inside and outside pockets and brilliant insulation served me well for over 20 years. It showed little sign of wear and tear despite much use. However global warming, and trips to the tropics during winter have rendered it obsolete. I have given it away.

Burger buns in Baldock: two for one

Shop

 

If, say, your dentist were to offer to take out two of your teeth for the price of one, and you  needed to have only one tooth extracted, would you be excited by this special offer? I bet you would not.

Supermarkets are always making offers such as buy one, get one free. Once, we needed four burger buns. We entered a branch of Tesco’s in Baldock (Hertfordshire, UK) and found that burger buns were sold in packets containing twelve buns. Reluctantly, as there were no smaller packs, we took one pack of twelve. As we were heading towards the check-out desks, a lady who worked for Tesco’s chased after us. She was carrying another pack of a dozen burger buns. She said:

You didn’t take these.”

We only want one pack,” I told her.

But you must take a second pack. There’s a special offer. Two for the price of one.”

I told her that we really did not need 24 burger buns; we only wanted four. As it was obvious that she was not going to take ‘no’ for an answer, we took the second pack of buns without any idea of what we were going to do with them. As far as I could see, we had simply helped Tesco empty their shelves of a perishable product, which if not sold would have had to be thrown away.

Another supermarket chain, tries to encourage purchases by offering the customer a free cup of coffee after paying for the goods. And if you have bought enough, a free newspaper is also on offer. These are nice gestures, but do they compensate for the higher than average prices of many of the goods on offer in their stores?

Parking in shopping centres can be costly. Some supermarkets have large car parks associated with them. They are often close to other shopping outlets, and charge a fee for parking. However, car owners who make a purchase in the supermarket are given a voucher that allows them to avoid paying for the parking.

Special offers are, of course, designed to attract sales. And, we as customers are often happy to take advantage of them. However, I still refuse to believe that many would go for a two for one offer on tooth extractions. But … maybe … I could tempt you to accept three extractions for the price of one!

 

A keen salesman

Elephant_240

Many years ago when we vere on holiday in India, we visited a historic Hindu temple complex in the State of Karnataka.

When we left the enclosure containing the amazing temples with thier intricate stone carvings, we were approached by a little boy, who could have been no more than ten years old. He wanted to sell us some quite attractive miniature elephants carved in stone. Out of politeness, rather than curiosity, we asked the price.

“200 rupees,” he said.

We told him that we did not want the carvings.

“100 rupees,” he said, hopefully.

“We don’t want them, thanks,” we said.

“50 rupees?”

“Really, no thanks”

“25 rupees?”

“Really, no”

“10 rupees?”

We tried to make it clear that we did not want the carvings at any price.

“Have them for nothing,” the little boy offered.

We still did not take them. I often wonder what would have happened next, had we accepted his three elephants as a free gift.

NATION OF SHOP KEEPERS

It is popularly believed that Napoleon Bonaparte described the British as a nation of shopkeepers but in reality he might not have said so. More likely, the early economist Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, might have coined this phrase. He wrote: “… the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers…”

Well, Great Britain still contains many shop keepers, but most of them are hopeless. Few shop keepers or their assistants, who are employed to make sales, put much effort into encouraging customers to buy. In general, they are an unhelpful bunch. Often when one asks for something, one is told by a typical British shop keeper: “If we’ve got it, it will be out on the shelves”, and then the customer is left to hunt for it somewhere in the shop.

Occasionally, you can find a helpful salesperson. Once, I was in London’s Oxford Street looking for a winter coat with certain features. I described in detail what I was seeking to a salesman. He replied cheerfully: “I know exactly what you need, Sir. I know just the job. You need a Danimac.” He paused before continuing: ” there’s only one problem: Danimacs are not made anymore.” And, that was it.

Had I been looking for that coat in India, the salesman would not have stopped at that point. Instead, he would have shown me a range of other types of coat in the hope that I might see the benefits of modifying my requirements and buying something else.

Unlike their British counterparts, Indian shop keepers and their sales people take a professional pride in both satisfying the customer and making sales.

Take clothes shopping for example. You enter a shop without much idea which shirt or skirt you want and are bewildered by the variety on display. You will be welcomed by a sales person, who will begin by showing you a garment that may not be to your taste. Then, you will be shown a series of other items. The salesperson will gradually show you merchandise that really appeals to you because he or she has been watching your reactions to what is being shown to you, and from these, your taste in clothes can be accurately ascertained. When you have selected whatever you were looking for as well as much that you never knew you wanted, alterations that might be needed to ensure a good fit will be carried rapidly out at no extra charge.

Some Indian shopkeepers are brilliant salesmen, especially the Kashmiris who run handicraft shops. You might enter one of these shops without any intention of making a purchase, but so expert are the sales people that I doubt that you will leave empty handed!

I could go on and on about the excellence of sales people in India, but I will not. However, before signing off, let me tell you about a simple vegetable seller in Bandra (Maharashtra). Formerly, he used to lay out a cloth blanket by the roadside. At about 1 pm, a truck would stop next to his cloth and various vegetables would be delivered. From day to day, the vendor had no idea which vegetables would arrive, but whatever arrived was, and still is, of a very high quality. His customers, mostly regulars, would turn up and buy what they needed.

After some years, the veg seller acquired a mobile phone. He collected the phone numbers of his customers. Now, every day the veg seller takes pictures of whatever he has received for sale, and then sends the pictures, the prices of his goods, and a description of them, to his customers via WhatsApp. His customers reply with their orders, which they come and collect from him. Thus, from humble beginnings a street vendor has brought his age old business into the 21st century.

Had Napoleon Bonaparte reached India, he would have had good reason to say, as I do, that Indians are truly a nation of first class shopkeepers.

Hitler on the shelf

Book shops and stalls all over India sell English translations of Mein Kampf by the late and unlamented Adolf Hitler. His literary oeuvre is available in several editions published by different Indian publishers. Judging by its appearance in so many booksellers’ shelves often prominently displayed, this book, written before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, is clearly still in great demand. After all, most book merchants do not stock books that do not sell.

Mein Kampf is usually displayed in Indian shops alongside other books by or about figures, who have made a significant impact on world affairs. For example, I have seen Hitler’s book next to volumes about Barack Obama and Bill Gates.

The pavements near Flora Fountain in Bombay are lined with wonderfully well stocked books, both new and used. The men who sell the books are well informed about their stock. They know whether or not the book that you desire is lurking amongst the piles of books stacked from the pavement to above their heads.

On one of these stalls, I spotted a shiny new edition of Mein Kampf. It was displayed prominently next to a book by Shashi Tharoor about India’s current PM, Narendra Modi and a book by Carl Sagan. Hitler’s face and that of Modi stared out at potential book buyers and other passers by. Was this arrangement of books by three great communicators accidental or was the vendor making an interesting statement?

Delivered to your door

After we married in 1994, we used to visit my in-laws in Bangalore (India) regularly. During the first few visits, we stayed in their home in Koramangala, a suburb to the south of the city’s diffuse central area. Although they lived close to shops, some within easy walking distance, their street was visited by itinerant sellers. For example, there were (and still are) people wheeling barrows from which they sell fruit and vegetables. These sellers announce their arrival with shouts in the Kannada language, which I cannot understand.  Other vendors come to the door selling bags of nuts and deep-fried and other snacks. Every street or street corner has a stall that is visited daily by the dhobi, who collects washed clothes to be ironed from your front door. All of this occurred in 1994 and continues today.

When I was a child during the 1950s and ‘60s, I lived with my family in Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) near to Golders Green in north-west London. The HGS is a housing project, which was conceived by the social reformer and general ‘do-gooder’ Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936). The Suburb, whose construction began around 1904, is a mixture of residences of varying sizes built in different styles of architecture. Her idea was to provide homes for all classes of society, so that people from all these social classes could live harmoniously side-by-side. As with all the best-laid plans, this social mixing was never achieved. The very pleasant green suburb became a haven for the middle classes, the bourgeoisie. In his autobiography “A Little Learning”, Evelyn Waugh wrote of HGS (in its early years) that it was inhabited:

“… not exactly by cranks, nor by Bohemians, but mainly by a community of unconventional bourgeois of artistic interests.”

Today, this kind of people cannot afford to live there; it is now a highly desired residential area for the sector of middle class with plenty of money at hand.

Henrietta Barnett included three churches, a community hall (the so-called ‘Tea Room’), a school, an Institute, and two areas of woodland in her utopian suburb, but rejected the idea of including anything so ungodly as shops. So, HGS had, and still has, no shops within its boundaries. The nearest shopping centres are Golders Green, Temple Fortune, and the Market Place that is located on an arterial road that divides HGS into two separate parts. Unless one lived near to any of these shopping areas, the nearest shops could be up to a mile away from your front door. Because of this, HGS used to be visited by various roving services in my day.

The milkman made deliveries of dairy products every day. These were loaded on small electrically powered vehicles (‘milk floats’) that moved almost silently along the streets. The only sound they made was the tinkling of glass milk bottles as they rattled in the wagon. The milkman collected his stock from the Express Dairy Depot at Hoop Lane on the edge of the boundary of HGS. It was at this depot that the electric vehicle’s batteries were charged overnight. Newspapers were delivered to the door by a delivery boy employed by a local newsagent. A man with a French accent wearing a beret used to cycle around HGS selling strings of onions. For some reason unknown to me my mother never bought onions from him, but her sister, who lived close by, always did. Several times a week a tatty lorry used to cruise slowly along our streets. His vehicle contained a vegetable shop.

In summer, vans selling ice-cream would occasionally cruise along our street. When they stopped, they played a pre-recorded musical (well, not very musical) jingle to attract customers’ attention.

Every now and then, a knife grinder would arrive on his bicycle. He had a pedal-operated grinding wheel that spat out a shower of sparks when a knife was being sharpened. My mother never employed the grinder, claiming that he would ruin her kitchen knives. Being a sculptress, she was used to sharpening her chisels on a stone, and probably sharpened her own knives as well. Cries of what sounded to me like “old iron and echo” heralded the arrival of the scrap metal collector. When I was very young, he arrived with a horse-drawn wagon. This was later replaced by a battered motor driven lorry.

Twice a week, a mobile public library visited HGS. I never used it, preferring to walk to the better stocked library in Golders Green. The only commercial establishment, the nearest approximation to a shop, within HGS was Mendels Garage, which sold petrol and repaired cars. This has long since disappeared as did some of the other services mentioned above.

A dhobi ironing in Bangalore

Moving fast forward to today’s world, there is little need to leave your home if you do not feel like doing so. With the advent of the Internet, everything can be brought to your front door: from cooked meals to rare books, clothes, and almost anything you might want to buy. Even fast-food joints like McDonald’s will deliver your favourite snacks. Recently, a friend in Bombay needed a new rubber stamp costing a very few rupees. He rang the manufacturer to order it and was told that it would be delivered to his home within a very short time.

The convenience of home delivery is obvious, but this may jeopardise the future of shops that rely on people entering their stores to buy things.  Such is life, as so many people say, rather irritatingly I feel!