Okay. I don’t know you, so you might think this is a bit of a personal question, but where do you buy your underpants?
I thought so. You don’t even need to squirm round to look at the label, do you?
It’s some time since I shopped at M&S as a matter of habit. Forty years ago it was the first place we all went to for basics – plain, sensible, good nt quality. If you bought a cardie at M&S you could be fairly certain you would be able to wear it until you and it had become close friends whose eventual parting would strike an emotional chord.
Now, though, what you want is often difficult to find. In the old days there were separate departments according to the type of product you wanted to buy. Nowadays we have to grope our way among departments so confusing they are reminiscent of the dying days of Woolworths. We are no longer directed towards tights or lingerie No. It’s Autograph. Or Limited Collection. Or Blue Harbour. Or Indigo. Or Ceriso. Or Adored. Or Portfolio. Or other names which seem to have no relationship to the sensible world of nighties, bras and socks..
Then there is Per Una. Per Una? This last I find particularly baffling.. Are their customers so limited in intelligence that they need to have pointed out to them that a particular garment is only meant to have one person wearing it? That they have to guard against two or more women trying to squeeze into the same skirt at the same time? That they might at some time introduce a range called ‘Per Duo’?
However, that is not why I’m writing to them. I am – and you should be – concerned with a much more serious matter.
Coming out of M&S – Salisbury branch – on Saturday last – (their lemon drizzle cake being to die for) – I passed a row of nice black jerseys. Yes, I could (and you will understand too if you have a white cat at home) do with one of those.
And M&S might now be selling tights which don’t go into holes at the first wearing, knickers which no longer leave the waistband in place while the main part of the garment becomes detached and slides inevitably groundwards during the course of a working day, button-through skirts whose buttonholes are tight enough to prevent embarrassingly large gaps appearing the first time of wearing, lambswool cardigans which don’t bobble and go into holes after one wash and shirts which don’t come apart at the shoulder seams.
And a polo necked black jersey was what I needed, so why not give it a try?
Join the queue, then, present the card, key in the number and press ENTER. Nice smile from the pretty girl (M&S are good at disarming smiles) as she hands us our receipt and there we are. Who knows, we might go back again one day.
Only when we get home, put on our reading glasses and inspect the receipt, we are puzzled. There, on the bed, waiting for its hanger, is one jumper. But the receipt says I’ve paid for two jumpers.
Back to Salisbury M&S.
Present the receipt. Nice smile from the duty manager. Have I mentioned M&S being good at smiles? Perhaps they have special training days devoted to smiles. Perhaps they need to.
The duty manager sighs prettily. It’s a weakness in the printer. It’s sensitive.
‘You mean it’s faulty.’
She concedes (smiling prettily) that its sensitivity could be regarded as a little unfortunate in my case.
But M&S Salisbury will continue to use the ‘sensitive’ machine, won’t they?
And, on reflection, why not? After all, how many M&S customers bother to check their receipts? I mean, they’ve been going since 1884, for goodness’ sake. If they can’t be trusted, who can?
And yet . . . and yet, the implications here are leading somewhere unthinkable, aren’t they?
Is the secret of their success contained in a deliberately policy to charge you twice and hope you don’t notice?
And would Mr Marks, back in his market stall all those years ago, actually approve of this?