W Hate Smith and Bob Dylan

October 25, 2009

This is a blog post of hate. Maybe. Most of the following is true. The odd line, here or there, may be made up. Not quite a lie. when is a lie not a lie? When it’s a joke? How would we know.

I am starting to hate W.H. Smith. When I bought Watership Down off them sometime in the early 70’s with my Christmas book token, I loved them. But it couldn’t last.

It may be a plan they have. Sometimes, when love breaks down, when we know our days are numbered, we will create hate just to give ourselves an escape plan. Woolworth’s fought for our love til the end, and as a result I think they will come to be missed. But clearly W.H. Smith have a death wish. I’m no expert, no forecaster, but they will go. One year, two years at the most. And they won’t be missed. When the last W.H. Smith closes we will all breathe a sigh of relief, and, at last, will be given back our shopping free will.

Am I being harsh? I hope they go, but I do not wish to see their staff out of jobs. If I worked for W.H. Smith, simply put, I would work for them no longer. I would be sacked. I would refuse what they demand of me to do. And this is the crux, this is the damnable act; the way they make their staff ask us unneccessary and unwanted questions.

Their crime against the customer is heightened when it’s a W.H. Smith at a train station. Few of us travel to train stations to hang around. We’re usually coming or going and W.H. Smith is a good (well, the only) place to pick up a newspaper. And even that’s not so easy.

I knew what I wanted. A bottle of Lucozade and The Guardian. That’ll be £2.69. But wait! If I buy The Sun at 20p I can get the Lucozade for £1. But I don’t want The Sun. I can get one paper and a drink for £2.69 or two papers and a drink for £2.2o. But I don’t want that little bundle.

Still, beggars can’t be choosers (and despite my supposed P-list status I am a beggar) and so I go for the two papers and a drink cheaper option. Damn that Murdoch and his conniving ways (though it’s Sunday now and the paper remains unread).

I queue to pay. A longish queue. No surprise, for each person upon reaching the cashier is subjected to the same attempts to make the customer buy things they, until that point, didn’t want.

It starts with a “How are you today?” I reply “very well. And you?” But my question gets no response. Instead she asks me if I would like some chocolate for £1. No. Then I’m offered chewing gum. No. If I’d wanted these things would I not have picked them up? Am I too arsey? Yes, a little bit. But she takes the biscuit when she offers me a rabbit. Then a toaster. Then a mail order bride. All for £1.

Her final attempt is to offer me a  free Evening Standard. I tell her two papers is enough, and I think she starts to get the idea that I’m not falling for the devil’s sales pitch.

Later, on my way back to the station, I pass St. Martin in the Fields. A church no longer in any field, but right on the edge of Trafalgar Square. As I walk along the left hand side of the church, heading away from the Square and towards Charing Cross I walk along a display of photgraphs from around the world, and underneath each a lyrical line.

I don’t know much about Bob Dylan and so I fail to realise I am reading the lyrics to “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” in reverse order. When I get to my end, which is the beginning, I understand the story.

Mark Edwards was stuck in the Sahara in 1969. Around the same time that a man stepped out on to the moon. In the desert he was greeted by a nomad who made him a cup of tea. They sat, drank, and the nomad brought out an old cassette player and played what may well have been his only cassette. And it was the Dylan song. Mark decided to illustrate the song with images from his own and his friends travels. If you’re passing the church, maybe on your way to or from the station, and you have the time, it’s worth a look.