Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Co-op memory.

It's 1977. Mum had sent me to buy an iron. I had complete instructions - the particular iron to be bought, how much it was on sale for and where to buy it. So I toddled off to the selected location clutching the cash needed for the purchase - the Co-op on Penge High Street.

I entered the Co-op (for current Penge residents the Co-op isn't there any more but it's next door to the Odeon Cinema that isn't there any more either) and look around for the location of the iron. After a moment's scrutiny of the signs - they weren't especially helpful, I recall - I headed to the most likely spot. You need to appreciate that, at no point in this adventure had there been any human encounter or indeed any encouragement for that encounter to happen.

I found the iron, checked its price and began the next phase of the adventure - trying to buy the blessed thing. From the spot I was stood there was no obvious "pay here" sign and, unlike the supermarket, there wasn't a bank of checkouts before the main doors.

"Aha," I thought and headed for the food section of the store clutching my iron, "they have checkouts there."

So I queued and, once at the front of that queue, presented my iron for payment.

"You can't buy that here, love."

"Oh. Where?"

An arm was waved in the vague direction of the main store (from where I had just come).

"Over there in the store."

I trudged back to the main store. In a distant corner, I spied what might be a shop assistant. I headed that way and it was such a person. They were unpacking a box and placing it's contents on the sales desk. Carefully, one item at a time.

And ignoring me stood shuffling from foot to foot a couple of yards away clutching a ten pound note and an iron. After a while, the assistant looked up and grunted.

"Wanna buy that, mate?"

"Er, yes." I held out the iron and the £10.

"Gotta go to the pay desk for that."

"Er, where..."

"By the lift."

I turned and headed towards the indicated location. And, yes, the pay desk was there. However, there was one small problem, there was no-one behind the desk to actually pay. I stood. I looked around for a bell to ring or maybe some instructions as to where to go in the event that the pay desk was unmanned. Nothing.  So I stood some more.

A older woman shambled over after what seemed an eternity.

"Can I pay for this please, " says I in an ever-so-slightly frustrated tone.

"Ysfffs" mumbles the woman and starts trying to insert a key hanging from a string on her belt into the till. After three or four goes at this, the till finally responds with those little lights and bells the new electronic wonders have to entertain us.

And I can complete my purchase. The woman seems somewhat affronted that someone actually wanted to buy something, as if this was not the reason why the Co-op had a big department store on the High Street.

"Thanks," I said once the sale was complete.

And I walked out from the shop. Not sure I ever went in again before it closed a couple of years later. Didn't seem much point since they didn't really want any customers.


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