Jun 29, 2016

Under the counter: a sideways look at the world of independent retailing

You can tell the holiday season’s started when the sun gets high enough in the sky to shine through the cobwebs in the stockroom window and leaflets for cheap cruises to Orkney outnumber final demands in the Premier Sports letter box.

Both situations occurred last week, followed, as always, by someone coming into the shop and saying: “It must be great being your own boss - just taking off to the Seychelles or somewhere whenever you like.”

Just where the idea came from that working for yourself is one long holiday and if you’re not actually on the beach in the Maldives you’re keeping your jabs up to date for a fortnight in St Lucia, I can’t imagine.

Tiresome offender
My neighbour, whose job in a council rates and valuation office would have me bleeding from the eyes and ears within an hour, is one of the most tiresome offenders. He’s forced to take six weeks holiday whether he likes it or not and has just returned orange faced and wild eyed with diarrhoea from a cut-price idyll in Lombok.

“I suppose you’ll be off on your travels soon,” he shouted over the fence, as he gave me the postcard he had been too mean to mail. “It’s all right for some.”

Oh yes? The nearest I got to a holiday last year was a day in IKEA with my wife, Doreen, looking for a walnut veneer corner unit for the lounge and half a day taking the cat to be spayed.

Previous time off, a horse drawn caravan trip through rural Ireland, ended on the second day when the horse went berserk and galloped with the caravan and two screaming children into the sea outside Wicklow.

The one before that ended equally unexpectedly when a package hotel in Tunis was raided by police at 3am and turned out to be a thriving brothel. A fact that, for some reason, had not been mentioned in the brochure.

It’s comforting to find I’m not the only one to feel let down by foreign travel. Some recent letters of complaint to Thomas Cook included: ‘No one told us there would be fish in the sea - the children were startled’, ‘The sand on the beach was whiter than in the brochure’ and ‘In India, we were disgusted to find almost every restaurant served curry’.

Of course, there’s a serious point to all this, which is if you leave someone else in charge of your business for any length of time, don’t be too surprised if something awful happens.

For instance, my cousin Pullings, a self-employed timber merchant, once returned from a week playing flat green bowls in Skegness to find someone had stolen the trees he intended to sell to pay for the holiday. You would have thought someone would have noticed robbers walking off with trees, but apparently not.

I once returned lightly tanned and reasonably optimistic from a few days in Llandudno to find a water pipe had burst and ruined three boxes of badminton shoes. My assistant, Norman, had heard the noise of rushing water, but assumed his tinnitus was playing up.

There was also a letter from revenue and customs casting serious doubt on my tax returns and a bill from the vet for the dog’s pacemaker.

Like me, Norman has never been particularly interested in seeing faraway places with strange sounding names. Last year his wife, Enid, arranged a holiday to a destination Norman only knew as ‘Abroad’. He was relieved to find it was the Norfolk Broads.

Taking a break
Now Norman, who’s idea of a good holiday is to spend a week in his shed repainting his garden gnomes in the away strip of Aston Villa, is trying to persuade me to take some time off this summer.

“You need a break, boss,” was the official reason, but I’ve a feeling the dates he’s suggesting coincide with the annual visit to the shop of the women’s skittles league to try on their new sweatshirts.

Doreen has hinted we could join her sister and husband on a coach tour of Portuguese aromatherapy centres, but my feeling is it would be wise not to go too far afield this year as I’m still waiting for a date for my allergy test after a nasty experience with some pickled eggs.

At the same time, I reckon I do deserve a break and the local garden centre has a set of gnomes I think would look super in the colours of the now legendary Leicester City.


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