Should Marks and Spencer announce it has fallen short of its targets this financial year, I fear I may be called to account for my inadvertent contribution to this downturn.
I will attend the Annual General Meeting with three identical woks and a picture of a fourth wok. The former are black steel and have wooden handles; the latter is shiny aluminium and has a glass lid. Small, but important details. Under the arm not carrying woks, I will have a girls' duvet cover printed with sugary cupcakes. More devilish details. I will also carry a guilty look even though I haven't actually done anything.
I am a huge fan of M & S. When the bean counters who run what was Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer's penny bazaar decided to shut the only store here several years ago, they left British expatriates bereft. It's mostly an English thing, but the Frenchman who is, as his nom de plume suggests, French, is also a huge fan of Marks & Spencer. He fell in love with the store, or more particularly, it's underpants, around about the same time he fell in love with me. His love for the shop was consummated after he told me the particular M & S underpants he liked were called "moule-burnes" and sent me off to ask the girl in the men's department for some. It turned out I was asking for "ball-squeezers" or something to that effect. This caused huge mirth among the sales assistants at the time and probably right up until the day they lost their jobs. It was nine years ago but is still a source of hilarity for the Frenchman's friends.
So, I have suffered humiliation heaped on rejection at the hands of M & S but have remained true. In April I ordered a wok from the online store. In the picture it was a thing of beauty, all shiny with riveted handles and a glass lid. What arrived was not. It was black, had a wooden handle and no lid. M & S customer services apologised profusely, said to keep the ugly wok and promised they'd send the right one. The Frenchman, used to the French school of customer relations, was impressed. A week later another black, wooden handle, no lid wok arrived. More calls. Another order. Another ugly wok. M & S not only says I can keep them but has given me a refund of my original order because I didn't get what I wanted. This is generous, but not economically sustainable.
M & S's generosity didn't stop there. A couple of weeks ago another order arrived and at the bottom of the box was a pink duvet set covered in cupcakes I hadn't ordered. I told the Frenchman I was going to phone M & S and 'fess up. He advised me to think long and hard before doing so. It was all very well salving my conscience, he said, but what of the warehouse packer named on the delivery note who was surely going to get it in the neck if I reported his generosity. He might, cautioned the Frenchman, lose his job and not find another because of the economic crisis. It had all the makings of An Inspector Calls. I put the duvet and my guilt in the cupboard.
So that's three woks and set of bedlinen awry on the stock count and I'm just one customer among millions. Then again maybe it is deliberate. Perhaps someone in the warehouse heard the one about the English woman and the 'moule-burnes' and felt I deserved a break.
Seumas Milne and the Stasi
1 month ago