Norfolk and shopping: sorry, I just hate it

Gordon Bailey of Litcham – who put fun into shopping when he ram the village stores and post office.

Gordon Bailey of Litcham – who put fun into shopping when he ram the village stores and post office. Gordon relished a joke with customers – and could do good impressions of most of them! - Credit: Archant

Retail therapy? Not for Keith Skipper

My road to the aisles is clogged with miles of grumpy misgivings.

A long-held aversion to the weekly shop, and its vast armies of miserable moochers who treat it as a perfect excuse to advertise a nation's shortcomings, stretches well past that Yuletide panic launched in late August.

I can't take it seriously much beyond books, magazines, sugar-free sweets, rhubarb, bloaters and those display folder thingies with about 30 see-through pockets for vital intelligence of little use to enemies outside Norfolk's indigenous remnants.

Perhaps my embryonic check-out chutzpah reached an unsustainable peak several years ago when a sudden downpour forced me to take refuge in a large city store. I dripped and dawdled until a smart young man came up and asked if he might help.

"Where is stationery these days?" I blurted out the first thing to enter my damp head. "Oh, stationery's moved, sir, over there next to newspapers and magazines. Were you after anything in particular?" Well, no, I'd just come in from the rain.

Suddenly, a classroom spelling bee from about 1954 came buzzing down a nearby escalator to camouflage my indolence. "But it can't move if it's stationary!" I smirked, wondering if he'd notice how I'd craftily changed the eighth letter to an "a".

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"Sorry, sir, but stationery has been moved over there next to newspapers and magazines," he repeated with quiet determination to maintain the eighth letter as an "e".

I didn't push my luck and ask if the books department stocked a little number called You Can't Win Them All. "Thanks for your help" I lied and went loitering towards the perfume counter with just a whiff of guilt lingering over my soggy frame.

An exasperating episode from the early 1970s left me similarly concerned about the future of mankind.

The fact I was on the way to Millwall to cover an important football match has surprisingly little to do with these Saturday afternoon shenanigans.

I mounted a bus with a youthful reporting colleague about two miles from the ground. "Dogs must be carried" announced a notice at the front of stairs to the top deck. Time for a lead role in Spot the Provincial.

"Go and tell the conductor we're very sorry but we haven't got a dog," I whispered. My young friend stared at the notice board, stared at me, stared at the conductor and then repeated this exercise in exactly the same order.

I waited for a flicker of a smile, a cheery word of reproach, a knowing nudge in the ribs, a gentle whoof of appreciation. None there came.. I paid both fares; told the conductor we'd try to be more canine-friendly next time and prepared for walkies to Cold Blow Lane.

My father enjoyed better luck when he told our village parson a good one when I was too young to appreciate high-class satire prepared and packaged in a respected mid-Norfolk emporium.

Apparently, my mother had taken me to the Kingston & Hurn grocery store on her Saturday mission by bus into East Dereham and placed me tidily on the counter while filling her bags.

The parson chortled heartily as father completed his story with exaggerated bluster …

"Blarst if that boy dint slip tew close ter the bearcun slicer … an' they got a little behind wi' thar orders!"

I couldn't remember this particular incident causing such mirth but gladly accepted a consoling pat on the head from a tickled reverend.

He muttered something about feeding the five thousand, stirred his tea and guffawed again.

Frankly, I cannot recall much drama or humour on the shop floor since that divine interlude and a host of little adventures in village stores during my growing-up years. There was a bit of a breakthrough, however, only three years back when I returned home with the correct non-stick scouring pads and fabric conditioner concentrate.

Sadly, my wife discovered I had wheedled sympathy and support from two kind women in Cromer town centre shops with my trademark helpless looks and forlorn shrugs.

They could have been working undercover for Shelfassured, Help the Anguished or Kaos (Keep Amateurs Out of Shops) but simple Norfolk compassion stamped my ration book.

Some of my long-term disenchantment with the retail world stems from confusing signs in windows. I spotted "Big Sale, Last Week" and thought how easy to always miss it.

This was just rubbing it in.