The high street
‘So would sir like the brown suede or the tan brogue?’
I stood up with one on each foot, swivelling left and right as I examined the reflection in the mirror.
‘I’ll take the suede, thanks… Sandra,’ I added, squinting at the name tag.
‘Certainly, sir. Or you could take them both and benefit from a 5% discount on the second pair.’
‘No thanks, Sandra, just the suede ones.’
‘Popular items bought with these shoes are the No-Drizzle water repellent spray especially formulated for suede protection,’ said Sandra, ‘and the Easislip long-handle simulated ivory shoe horn no longer available.’
I looked at Sandra, mystified. ‘No thanks,’ I repeated, ‘just the shoes.’
‘Customers who bought brown suede shoes also bought a LoveMyShoe suede care kit with lifetime guarantee and free additional SoftScrape® wire brush, and SaniCleen extra-deep cat litter liners for odour-free feline sanitation.’
‘Just the shoes, Sandra,’ I repeated.
‘Of course. Do you like brown suede, sir?’
‘Well, yes, I suppose so.’
‘Then would you like more information about brown suede and related products? I can put you on the list if you like, sir. First name? Surname?’
‘Maybe later, Sandra. I just want to buy these shoes.’
‘Certainly, sir.’ Sandra took my debit card and ostentatiously looked the other way while I typed in my pin code.
‘Thank you, sir,’ she said, handing me the receipt. ‘You may also be interested in these other brown suede shoe items,’ she added, showing me a range of shoes identical to the ones I’d just bought but at slightly lower prices.
‘Hang on,’ I said, ‘couldn’t I exchange these for one of those cheaper pairs?’
‘You’re free to return items at any time within 14 days of purchase,’ said Sandra. ‘Purchases will be refunded in full within 30 days subject to terms and conditions on production of a valid receipt and at the sole discretion of the store manager.’
‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘I’ll just take these.’
I was on the top deck of the bus, gazing out of the window, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I was surprised to find Sandra sitting next to me.
‘Thank you for choosing Shoe Hut for your footwear-related purchase,’ she said. ‘Would you care to rate your shopping experience today? On a scale of one to five, how happy were you with the quality of service you received today, where one is not at all happy and five is very happy?’
‘I’m sorry, Sandra, I really don’t want –’
‘How would you rate the value of the item you purchased today on a scale of one to five, where one is very poor value and five is very good value?’
‘Look, I don’t want to cause offence, but –’
‘How would you rate the layout of the store you visited today, on a scale of –’
But I’d left the bus, two stops before home, to get away from Sandra’s incessant nagging. You could take customer service just too far.
The following day, shortly after breakfast, the doorbell rang. I opened it to find a short, overweight man holding a large suitcase.
‘Hi there, Mr Firstname Surname! As someone who’s interested in brown suede products, you’ll be delighted to know that you’re eligible for an exclusive 5% doorstep-only discount on our extensive range of toilet bags, wallets, TV remote control holders and sundry goods, all crafted from real-effect brown suedette. Furthermore –’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘How did you get my address?’
‘On making your purchase yesterday you requested product information from selected sales partners of Shoe Hut, their subsidiaries and affiliates, and other retail entities who from time to time –’
‘I did no such thing.’
‘Oh but you did, Mr Surname. You explicitly expressed an interest in receiving information about suede and suede-related items at the time of purchase, which entitles you to be sent promotions, special offers and –’
I slammed the door. I didn’t remember agreeing to anything. I’d obviously got on some list or other. Perhaps Sandra could help sort it out.
As I stood at the bus stop waiting for the bus back to Shoe Hut, I was tapped on the elbow by a tall man with a strong African accent wearing flowing robes.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said, ‘but I wondered if your excellency could help me with a small problem.’
‘Oh, OK,’ I said, reaching into my pocket for some small change.
‘It is my uncle,’ the man explained. ‘He is the former foreign minister of my country, and he has been forced to flee leaving all his wealth behind. It amounts to some sixty-two million dollars. I am prepared to offer you, Mr Firstname Surname, ten percent of that sum in exchange for your assistance in getting the funds out of the country.’
I turned away, startled by a sharp punch on the shoulder.
‘Hey, buddy!’ A large, tanned American had thrust his face up close to mine. ‘How’s it hanging? Problems getting it up? Can’t satisfy the little woman like you used to? Need more power in the ol’ pecker?’
‘Fancy a flutter, honey?’ said an impossibly brassy blonde in a diamante-studded black strapless dress. ‘Today’s your lucky day! You’ve won an exclusive £50 voucher for a trial session at Poker Knights, with the chance to win –’
At the shoe shop I could see half a dozen assistants, but none of them looked like Sandra.
‘Excuse me,’ I said to a passing assistant, ‘is Sandra in today?’
‘I’m Sandra,’ she said. ‘How can I help you?’
‘No, I meant the other Sandra.’
‘We’re all Sandra,’ she said, shrugging her shoulders. ‘How can I help you?’
‘I seem to have got on some sort of list,’ I said. ‘I want to be taken off it.’
‘Of course, sir,’ replied this Sandra. ‘And as someone who’s expressed an interest in lists, can I show you our extensive range of list-related items? We have a special offer today only –’