No wonder Debenhams is in trouble. Shops have forgotten how to look after us

Debenhams has been placed into administration and the retailer's lenders seized control of the compa

Debenhams has been placed into administration and the retailer's lenders seized control of the company. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Some changes are for the better, says James Marston, but shops could do a lot more to win our custom...

I bought my mother some Milk Tray for Mother's Day.

I didn't, before you assume, put on a black polar neck jumper and scale a roof but the thought was there.

It was a two tray box as well. There are a couple of orange creams – or orange truffle as they are called these days I think – left which no one likes.

Of course, they have to change everything, don't they?

If it's not messing about with Toblerone, or putting fewer biscuits in a packet, it's something.

Change, in fact, is life's only constant. And I don't always much like it, do you?

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This week, over a roast chicken Sunday luncheon at chez Marston, my father and mother mentioned, although I'm not sure how we even got on to the topic, that once upon a time shoe shops had X-ray machines.

Is this even true?

Can you imagine looking at your feet bones just because you want a new pair of moccasins?

Apparently these machines were common place - I ventured that perhaps they fell out of favour what with radiation and all that trouble.

Perhaps you can let me know?

Anyway, even I remember when the shoe shop lady – and it was almost always a lady – measured one's feet and fitted a pair of shoes with some skill. It was normal to put your feet on a sliding thing and wait as they engaged in the skill of customer service.

These days if I act my age and not my shoe size they actually match and no one ever measures my feet.

And these days customer service is almost a thing of the past.

Go into a supermarket and you have to do your own checkout, phone a bank and you have to do the job for them, phone your local council – as I did recently – and never be able to speak to anyone at all, call a doctor and relay your symptoms to a receptionist, go into any other shop and you often have to wait until the shop boy/girl/woman/man has stopped chatting before you get any attention whatsoever.

These changes, I don't think are always for the better.

Maybe if Debenhams had made more of a fuss of us, instead of leaving us to roam confusing section after confusing section, and pick our shoes off a rack, they wouldn't be in the mess they are in now.

Having said that, not so long ago and in living memory there were plenty of children in this country who didn't have shoes, let alone the possibility of buying them online with comparative ease. So perhaps we'd better be grateful after all?

Change might often be a frightening and daunting prospect but sometimes and often it's for the best even though it might be a heavily disguised blessing. And it's a maxim that one man's change is another man's – or woman's – progress.

This year I am changing my life considerably by taking Holy Orders.

I am due, God willing, to be made deacon in June. I shall be a curate and start a ministry in the Church or England.

This is a huge life change and comes with it all sorts of feelings of inadequacy, fear, trepidation, anticipation, excitement, enthusiasm, and joy.

Human nature, it often seems to me, is perhaps the only constant in a changing world, and what I am doing, though, arguably, massively countercultural and against the grain of an increasingly secular society, is a well-trodden path. A path that people have walked along for centuries so in many ways I am doing nothing new at all – though at the personal level it certainly feels life-changing.

I'm not sure how it's all going to work out. I have no idea if I'll be any use or not. I'm giving it a go anyway.

I might feel a bit daunted by this change but I am embracing it as well.

In the end I, and all of us, have no choice when it comes to change. It's part and parcel of being alive.

James' Mailbag

In other news the other week I mentioned a recent trip of mine to the Acle Straight, Mr Hewitt of Hemsby was kind enough to drop me a line:

Dear James, Thanks for your article concerning your run out to Halvergate. Before going on to the Acle Straight please permit me to kindly put you right as to what you saw, and described, as 'windmills'. They were indeed wind driven but what you saw were actually drainage pumps. These were used to keep the water levels under control so that cattle could graze in Summer and that the marshes did not become totally flooded in Winter. Such innovation came, and you will not be surprised to learn this, from Dutch engineers who had made such a good job of bringing a lot of their lowlands into agricultural use. Now to the Acle the early 1800s it was decided that a road of some sort be constructed across the marshland between Gt Yarmouth and Acle. Again Dutch ingenuity was called upon and the road was constructed with foundations of, wait for this, reed, sedge and brushwood, and has lasted to this day with those foundations still in place. This road is best described, not as a highway, but a 'causeway' which indeed it is - a road constructed on, and over, marshy wet land. The Acle Straight was completed around about 1830.

Roger Hewitt


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