I went to the bank today and asked if I could pay in a couple of cheques. I was greeted with an attempt at an ingratiating smile which came across as more like someone trying not to let on that they’re actually holding in a really big fart. The woman serving me took my card and fairly obviously glanced at it to get my name before saying “And how are you today, Mr Ridge?” like we were old friends.
I’m not interested. Just pay my cheques in and let me get out of here.
This fake bonhomie has been festering for years and is now actively on the march again, what with the recession and the need to “up your game” if you’re in any kind of retail sector.
When I say years I really mean that, too. Fifteen years ago I attended a one-day training session at a brewery near Guildford to brush up on my signwriting skills (see what I did there – this stuff doesn’t write itself, you know?). At the time, pubs were still largely split between two types: proper “boozer” locals, and the larger, chain style brewery houses that – shock! horror! – served food in an attempt to encourage a more up-market clientele than the usual hardcore drinkers and the bloke-popping-in-for-a-quick-one-after-work crowd.
The person running the course was talking about the “retailing” of the pub trade and how everything was about to change, now that the typical disposable income of the average household was being spent by women – or at least they were deciding how to actually dispose of it. This meant that the Laura Ashley look was in vogue and pretty soon sweaty landlords across the land would be combing their hair and matching pastel drapes with velour cushions. We were advised to think carefully about how we used our blackboards and signage material, ensuring we always had at least one wine on offer and that we were highlighting our meal deals.
I came away from the day glad to have had a few tips on board layout – and for the free set of paint markers – but utterly despondent about the future of our pubs, and yet really it was the future of the high-street itself that was about to be put under threat. The urban landscape has changed beyond all recognition since then, as I’ve touched on before. I can accept that the global downturn will have as much effect on the planet’s economics as plate tectonics has on its topography, but what I don’t like is the subsequent rise of corporate bullshit.
As our streets become more and more homogenised, so too do the people working in them. It’s like company policy has replaced any kind of freewill, people are so scared to lose their jobs if they don’t tow the line. Big brother has arrived in so many different forms, but this “enemy from within” is so subtle and so scary at the same time, most people don’t even notice it. Forced to wear uniforms to work and be “on brand” at work, we’re now talking and thinking in the company way … which in its own sinister way is a realisation of a form of “doublespeak”.
So we get the obligatory “Is everything okay with your meal” the nano-second after the first morsel has passed your lips …
We’re force-fed the rot about our trains running punctually 97% of the time (have you read the small print on that one?) …
We read about the customer charter and its predictable false promises …
We feel the re-brand in our pocket when a new fat cat takes the chair and decides to make their mark, because the prices have gone up again …
We know what’s going on.
We understand the way it works.
We’re getting shafted by the government, the multi-nationals, the oil companies, income tax, road tax, the council tax, stealth taxes in all their myriad forms, price-fixing cartels and every other body, organisation or company that thinks they can pull the wool over our eyes.
We get it.
And we know there’s nothing we can do about it.
So please … please … don’t tell your staff to say: “Is there anything else I can do for you today, sir?”
I have not been knighted, and nor am I ever likely to be.
I am not yet an old man, deserving of such a respectful title.
We’re not living in some caste-based mediaeval village.
This is the 21st century, so don’t use such terms with me.
Don’t even use my name.
Just pay. The bloody. Cheques. Into. My. Account.
One day someone will ask me that question, I’ll snap and I’ll answer them honestly.
They won’t like it.