I went to meet a friend on Sunday and I was early – we laugh at each other about being early, we are always early – but this was time and to spare.
And there was Waterstones, its doors welcomingly open, so I went in reaching for my booklist.
There is always a booklist, but I have learned that wishing to read something is not the same as reading it so I no longer rush in and purchase. I go to look for something I think I might be interested in and then I try to read a bit of it. You can still get a book wrong this way but not as often as deciding that you really do want to read the latest Chinese novel only to get it home and find that it is Kafka for our times and either isn’t so well written or has suffered in translation.
You can be quite sensitive to translation even if you don’t speak the native language.
So I found The Unexpected Professor by John Carey (8/10) and fished for my wallet, only to be stopped firmly but gently by a personable assistant who explained that Sunday trading didn’t permit sales in shops over a certain footage before 12.00 noon and the doors were open in case we wanted coffee.
“I can’t help you” she said “ I am sorry but the fines are punitive.”
So I waited and at 11.58, she took down the notice I hadn’t noticed and let me pay for the book.
The Mayor of London is Boris Johnson.
And in the course of the last week or so he has expressed a wish to see London shops open longer hours, claiming this would generate 2000 jobs.
Until the book shop, I had not come up against any restriction of trade on a Sunday because everybody I know either works shifts or all the hours heaven sends and that includes Sundays.
Many shops seem to spend long days gaping. And the assistants must be really exhausted doing nothing because nobody much goes in.
Nothing makes for a slower day than having to be there when nothing is happening.
It seems to me that far from opening shops for longer hours, they need to become a little less accessible which would teach customers to value them more and incidentally give the staff a bit of a break.
There is a lot of research – psychological, social and medical – into the value of time off, a change (I can vouch for it) being as good as a rest especially when you spend your working life dealing with other people and the other people all to frequently take out the professional frustrations of the long hours they work in other occupations on captive retail staff.
One of the major confusions of modern life is confusing “ more “with “better”.
More hours doesn’t mean better service.
Bigger isn’t always better, it’s just bigger.
True, the Victoria and Albert Museum says that the Alexander McQueen exhibit is its most successful ever and the other night they kept the doors open all through the night so that people who hadn’t a chance to see it, had the opportunity.
But that is a targeted convenience – one night, not seven.
And because it was special, it worked.
The plan for much retail seems to be to be open all hours so that if you want to buy a sofa at 2.00 am, you may – but what is missing from this “shop whenever you want to” equation is how much it costs to keep the premises lit, staffed and warmer or cooler depending on the time of year, on the off chance that you will make use of the facility.
What about all those years and years when we managed perfectly well with restricted shop hours, there wasn’t a constant excuse for a price hike, and when the store had a “special” and stayed open, we relished it and spent our money happily?