Friday, 19 November 2010
Mrs Brown You Have a Lovely Daughter
Oh look there's the milkman, delivering your pint of blue top (double cream). Today he has his little book with him because he's collecting the money we owe. He's also delivering a half dozen eggs and a bottle of orange juice to No 6. And he's asking about Mrs Jones at No 11: she's had a bereavement.
Closely following is the postman. He knocks on the door, pushes it open and drops a few parcels on the door mat. As he leaves he knocks on the window to let Mrs Smyth know that he's been - she's rather deaf and slow on account of her bad leg.
Dr Cameron drives up in his Standard Vanguard - been driving one since he was discharged from the Army in 1947. Mrs Smyth phoned and asked him to call in as she wasn't feeling that good.
Young Jack on his bicycle is delivering a shoulder of lamb and a pound of sausages to No 10, after which he'll take an order from young Mrs Armitage: just moved in and keen to stamp her personality on the street.
In this one slightly middle class street in Hove, Sussex there is a stream of callers. The coal man, the paraffin man, the life insurance man collecting his weekly 2/6d, the door to door salesman with his mops and magic cleaning fluids and the French onion seller.
In the High Street just behind the gardens of this tidy street is the drapers,with their pneumatic tubes connected to the sales desk and cash till, and the electrical shop with the latest Hi Fidelity Radiograms. The local garage displays one or two of the latest Morrises or Austins on its forecourt , and you've booked in your annual service six months ago. The grocer's selling off broken biscuits at 3d a bag and the smell of freshly sliced bacon is overpowering.
Sainsbury's dominates the street with double aisles - on the right, cheese, butter and bacon and on the left dry goods. The butter is individually patted into half pound slabs and the cheese is cut with a wire. The bacon joint is pinioned on the slicer and you indicate with a hand movement the thickness you require, or simply say "the usual". Don't ask for anything exotic to save disappointment.
Across the road is the new supermarket small, without assistants and a penny or two cheaper. But even if you shop there you'll still buy your greens at the greengrocers and your rock salmon and cod at the fishmongers - how can they live above that smell?
An intricate thread weaved throughout the neighbourhood. This was the dreary 50's, little choice, mums at home and fathers traipsing off to the factory or, possibly, an office.
Now what relationship do any of us have with those who provide us with goods and services? My banking is on line, my home and car insurance is on line as is my gas and electricity. I last saw a bank manager 25 years ago, had milk delivered to my doorstep 26 year ago and I can't remember the last time someone read my meters!
This is the way I like it. I think. Do I need to have a personal relationship with someone who pumps gas into my home or provides insurance for the car. No, no and no. It's such a waste of time having to connect with these people, writing cheques, handing over cash, queuing and having to worry about their lives. Let's get impersonal and just transact.
Which is fine until something goes a little bit haywire. and then you're held hostage by the sheer impersonality of modern Customer Relations Management Systems. And you realise that the cheapness you so value is bought at a terrible price.
I now have to allocate at least a month each year so I can renegotiate my car and house insurance, my telephone and broad band contract, my credit cards deals and my gas and electricity suppliers. The joy of having switched supplier and saved a couple hundred is immediately swamped by the knowledge that I'll be going through the same process in a year's time.
Do you know I see my postman more often taking in post that he can't deliver to our neighbours than when he delivers post to me. I got nostalgic when a milk float delivered down our street - it's doesn't any more.
I notice all this now I'm retired. I'm now in the same position my mother was 50 odd years ago, but without the regular visitors!