Philip Moss bemoans the current proliferation of customers who come not to buy, nor even to browse, but to smear, damage and destroy every product they can find.
Standing in some windswept, Arctic field at Dricombe Staines or wherever the hell it is for another bloody point-to-point, eternal truths come thick and fast. Here’s a sample: In these times of austerity, every trader might as well get used to the idea that game fairs, point-to-points and even dedicated shooting shows are opportunities merely to window-shop.
This unpalatable truth could be made less daunting if people were less screwed-up about how others perceive them and they spoke plainly. Indeed, there are many customers who visit my stand and do just that. They offer a couple of compliments about the products on show and then add, “but I’m not flush at the moment” or, more bluntly, “I just don’t have the money at the moment.” It’s still good. There’s optimism there. At another ‘moment’ in the future they may come back and buy.
Others are bit more ground down by it all, poor souls. Every weekend, someone on the stand asks, rather timidly, “Do you mind if I look? I’m not buying today but…”
What can I say in response? “How dare you! Bugger off!” Of course not. Well, all right – but only occasionally and only after several ciders.
Of course, customers have to look at products before they buy them. If they want to look and buy in a few weeks’ time, that’s good, too. But there’s always someone who wants to complicate matters. They believe in keeping up appearances. In their own mind, they are ‘masters of the universe’ even if their resources don’t quite stretch to it.
It is for these people that I have established a few ground rules:
1. If you are only browsing with no intention to buy, it is not acceptable for customers to alternate between stuffing their faces with greasy chips and picking up and marking every product on the stand. I have never been asked to make leather goods that look like they have spent the night in a marsupial’s pouch and I cannot see the fashion ever taking off. If you cover leather goods with greasy smears, you’ve just bought them.
3. Didn’t your mother always tell you “Leave things as you found them”? If you are only browsing with no intention to buy, try to remember this. Do not adopt the modern approach, which is to pick it up a product, damage it, wave it around or hold it in your hot, sweaty, little hand and then toss it back onto the counter as if it was an empty crisp packet containing a dog turd. The modern view lacks any consideration for others. The attitude is: “It isn’t important because it’s not mine. I can do anything I want to it because it’s yours.”
What is truly staggering is that I see parents allowing their kids to behave like this. When you remonstrate, they adopt a holier-than-thou, ‘my child is perfect’ attitude. “I was going to buy something but now you’ve spoken to Jocelyn like that, I won’t!”
To which the answer is: “I can live with that! Now f**k off and take your vile spawn with you before I break out the Domestos.”
4. If you are only browsing with no intention to buy, please try not to block the front of the trader’s stand while entering into an animated discussion about Auntie Anne’s piles or Uncle Nigel’s hernia. Try moving away a little and give the stall holder a chance to sell to other people.
And to accompany this sort of behaviour, how about lashings of good old English, class-bound, bull:
Customer: Yes, it’s very nice but I’m afraid I don’t carry any money.
Trader: I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you a member of the Royal Family or do you have a keeper?
Customer: Ah! Here’s my equerry now. Figgis, do you have one’s wallet?
Customer: This is on your website as well, is it?
Trader: This one here?
Trader: The one that is here now, in front of you, ready for you to buy?
Trader: The one that is much more expensive on the website but is here at a heavily discounted price ready for you to buy now?
Customer: Do you have a card?
Trader: Not that I’m counting, but this is the seventeenth time this morning you have picked that up and opened it.
Customer: Is it?
Trader: If you’re interested in that cartridge bag [code for ‘before you wear it out’], I can do you a good price on it.
Customer: Oh, I am just looking, thank you.
Trader: Looking is carried out using your eyes. You are handling, which, as the word suggests, involves the use of your hands. Did you enjoy that burger?
Still, appearances are important. At this year’s West Country Game Fair I was struck by the absence of taxidermists displaying their wares. In fact, I could only find one. Reg – for it was he – told me that most of his fellow stuffers had gone abroad to look for business. I was quite struck by this enterprising activity and felt slightly lazy by comparison.
Reg added that he had once won the contract to spruce up the embalmed remains of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in Moscow. He hadn’t done much work like this but was pleased to have the opportunity. Reg took a long draw on his roll-up as he recounted a tale of disaster. After he’d completed his work, his hopes for a successful outcome were dashed when his Russian minder pointed out – before his departure to a salt-mine – that he could not remember any historical report confirming that Lenin had had a squint nor that his complexion was yellow enough to suggest he’d suffered from jaundice. He knew for certain, however, that at no time during his exile in Switzerland, the 1917 Revolution or the Civil War that followed, had Lenin complained to his colleagues that he was growing pheasant feathers from his rear end. Reg had therefore stayed put, leaving the Hugo Chavez contract to younger taxidermists with a more advanced knowledge of left-wing anatomy. I wonder what time it is now in Caracas?