Tuesday 7th May 2013 at 3:46PM
THERE’S usually very little going through my mind at 7am. It’s like a big shop at closing time. Everyone’s gone, apart from a cleaner hoovering quietly in the background. The shutters are half way down and the last customer is being ushered out into the street.
A couple of Saturdays ago, however, I couldn’t have been busier at 7am. It was Record Store Day and my daughter and I were determined to beat the crowds and get down to Jumbo Records in Leeds’ St John’s Centre to get our hands on a couple of limited edition vinyl releases (specifically a David Bowie 40th anniversary picture disk 7” of Drive In Saturday and a blue vinyl version of Marianne Faithfull’s 1979 classic: Broken English).
So, as the sun rose over the city, Elena and I found ourselves at the back of the longest queue in Christendom with a three-hour wait ahead of us (and even then, just to get as far as the shop door).
Spotting the potential for a long wait, my daughter swiftly produced a small arsenal of mobile devices with which to pass the coming hours. I, on the other hand, set about trying to combat the monotony of the queue with some useful thoughts.
I won’t dwell on the first one. That was just a smug self-congratulatory feeling: how cool are we? Nothing’s really valuable unless it takes some effort to procure it in the first place, right? My primeval urge to hunt and provide for my wife and kids was asserting itself (although I can imagine a very disappointed Neanderthal family looking forward to seeing father return home with a freshly slain wild boar but instead being presented with the 7” white vinyl of Wire’s Outdoor Miner).
Next, as the minutes became hours, I started to think about how strange it was to be queuing for anything these days: not at my local post office, where they have an exciting new ticketing system; not at the supermarket (albeit sneakily achieved by making me serve myself) and not even at the football, as we can now print our tickets off at home.
In fact, with the possible exception of Apple stores, where crowds gather as if entranced by some technology-laden Pied Piper, queuing has become obsolete.
In this on-demand world, queues have become a symbol for service failure, being one of the first traditional aspects of shopping to be swept aside by the internet (switch on, log in and check out). And if they send you the wrong product or your purchase doesn’t work, they courier you a new one without delay and they even despatch a courteous driver to pick up your unwanted item, heartlessly depriving you of the chance to spend an age squeezing your bread maker back into its original packaging and then a further half an hour waiting in line at the Post Office.
I remembered a story a friend told me. He’d reached the end of a long queue at a bank in Leeds only to be met with a half hearted ‘sorry for your wait’ from the cashier. Playing a verbal blinder, he replied ‘Weight? But I work out every day. How rude!’
So even in the physical world, the concept of having to wait for something has somehow become archaic. For example – and to the horror of slow food aficionados – you can now get peeled oranges, beaten eggs, carrot sticks and loaves of bread with the crusts taken off (how hard can it be?).
And yet, there we were, several hundred of us, moving along at a yard a minute, waiting in line. Then suddenly the English reserve crumbles and a couple of conversations break out: ‘What are you hoping to get?’ ‘Got your eye on something?’
People started talking about their first ever purchase. My daughter asked what record I’d bought first. So, resisting the urge to promote my second ever purchase (Bowie’s Starman in 1972), I bravely “coughed” to Poppa Joe by The Sweet.
There were plenty of old timers like me in the queue, reminiscing about the wave of coloured vinyl that first appeared in the late 70s and there were teenagers with printed off lists deciding what their contingency purchases would be.
The tea and coffee service (helpfully laid on by a neighbouring café) had by now started to do a brisker trade, as erstwhile strangers took turns to watch each other’s place as their new friends went for a cuppa.
In fact, everything was so slow that our long awaited arrival at the counter was almost a disappointment. Or at least it was after the exchange that followed. “Have you got the Bowie picture disc?” I asked. “No” came the reply.
All told it had taken us precisely three hours to fail to buy what we wanted, but the brief respite from the whirlwind of modern life had refreshed us all. They’d have you believe that the internet is here to take the hassle away and to give us our lives back. But if that means our lives are lived at internet pace, I’d sooner have my queues back.
The Bowie release? We bought that online a couple of days later.
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