Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections

Cally Callomon | 16th January 2016

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s contributors and friends take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months. Today it’s the turn of Cally Callomon.

The dazzled author’s mother, 1964

The Self Surface

Twenty Fifteen: a year I deduced that though we have departed what was once ‘The Machine Age’ that latterly became the ‘Technology Age’ we appeared to have inadvertently been dropped off at The Self Age.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a near off land, a Supermarket, let’s call it… um “Tesco” (easy target – like shooting pike in a barrel.) Tesco realised the many benefits of stacking up masses of the same stock on the shop floor – turning their warehouse into their shop, then getting the shopper to select what they want, put it into the (supplied) trolley and then go to the check-out to pay for it all in one go.

This superseded the pattern whereby the friendly shopkeeper, one you may meet in the local that evening, took your list from you, went behind the counter and filled up a bag (he supplied) with all your goods. He’d even send his boy round on the bike to deliver your buns, bones, and beans. Enormous profits (for Tesco) followed.

Then along came Fine Fare, a deadly rival, and so Tesco sharpened their acts and decided it was all about who appeared to have the lowest price; and yea the bloody and rampant cost-cutting wars ensued and food became the cheapest in the land, ever it had been anywhere. It still is.

No produce was spared this ruthless savagery, even that old chum Music fell foul of the gormless HMV supermarket disease.

And how did the multi-faceted Tesco/Fine Fare monster achieve this you ask? Well, I ask.

First they paid the farmer less for the produce, (brilliant! in turn he laid off his farm workers and applied for subsidies from us all) secondly the monster made Osbourne-like efficiency savings in-store, paid their staff less, gave the customer their own checkout to operate and (most importantly) whilst selling DVD players as a £20 loss-leader, hoped that no-one realised that their trolley-fodder (flour, oranges, disinfectant etc) was more expensive then the ailing local shop. They then played soothing music, (Wet, Wet, Wet) turned up the lights and sponsored the local Silbert and Gullible Light Opera Society.

In fact, the cheap price offers meant little (Lidl) to the customer, a customer blinded by the bright lights, deluded to the point where the price tags on stuff disappeared behind the secretive bar-codes and we all assumed that ‘own-brand’ meant ‘actually still made by Kelloggs’. Judging by current car boot boxes few also used to avoid those Hot Hits copycat albums that sounded ‘just like the real thing’ as well. They didn’t sound like the real thing as anyone who has volume 45 with ‘Autobahn’ on will testify.

We appeared to celebrate and laud the money-makers, these drivers of efficiency at the top. They were easy to spot: they squeezed into badly fitting expensive suits, with shaved heads and never a tie, and that’s just the women. Dragon’s Den, Lord Sugars and Portas, all worshipped the idea of the customer having the choice, and for that was meant do it yourself (B & Q). ‘Self service’ became the mantra yet ‘suit yourself’ was also a dismissal.

The holy Lord Chancellor shouted for growth whilst the only growth his people suffered from was that of cancer.

The holy Lord Chancellor shouted for speed whilst the only speed his people experienced was the cheap sulphate the Sleaford Mods sang about.

Human bank managers were laid to rest, you wanted information? YOU look it up, no-one is going to give you it for free, no service, just bloody help yourself. Call Centres: I ask you. “Alternatively why not visit our website on www. anker” came the question that had no question mark at the end of the life sentence.

Yea 2015!…and lo! local Co-op changed. Gone were the self-service checkouts that seldom worked, gone with the unattended item in the packing area. How could this be? They were installed just one year before in all their stores at huge cost, they laid off several checkout humans, but look: they then ripped them out… how could they pay for this?
How can we pay for this?
How can the farmer pay for this?

I’d love to think that they realized that their cost-cutting measures cut deeper than costs,
that we shoppers are more concerned with shopping, less so with punching our neighbour in the face in order to secure a ‘bargain’,
that we actually enjoy mingling, talking to shop-owners,
that we write lists of what we need and find all that plus what we want on top,
that it is we who discover what it is we didn’t know we wanted,
that if we really want to save money we have foodbanks, Lidl and Aldi (no music, no bright lights)
that we don’t just take what twitter, faecebook, The Guardian Online serves up on our plate each morning,
that we forage for news,
that we introduce doubt,
that we go hunting again,
that we take othersies not selfies
that we are the Winstanley to their Cromwell – The Levellers without the bad haircuts and shoddy songs, that we can become a nation of shopkeepers again.
that we can serve ourselves, and reject the lie that is self-service.

…. And so say all of me.