As a child I used to love going to those massive DIY shops, Homebase, B & Q and there used to be one called Texas. Probably the first automatic doors I ever went through. There was something appealing about the high ceilings, the polished floor of the wide aisles, the glamour of the lighting section, the simple free entertainment of the doorbell section. The heady thrill of being in a kitchen in a shop? Or a bathroom in a shop? You could sit on a toilet and say to your sisters – “hey look at me!” A shop so big it always seemed empty, a shop with more tills than customers, It felt like a shop that was completely safe to get lost in. A shop that played background music. There was even a vending machine at the exit, as if to say “Look pal you’ve got some honest graft ahead of you, an afternoon spent bettering your own environment, why not have some hula hoops to keep you going?” All these things I remember.
Nowadays it’s not so fun. I have to park a full mile from the entrance no matter what time of day or which day of the week I go. It is permanently full. Principally because some chancer has parked the world’s biggest burger van across 20 prime spaces and is frying onions at 8am on a Sunday morning. Catering for precisely no-one. Yes it smells nice, I suppose, but how low would your self-esteem have to be to visit that van? In full view of everyone else?
“I’d like a DIY carpark burger at 8 o’clock on a sunday morning and the number for the samaritans please”
Now there are not one but two sets of automatic doors. Automatic doors which act like a charity air-lock. The first set close behind you and you then realise that you have been effectively trapped, the only way out is forward where at least 2 charity muggers rattle collection tins threateningly. A classic charity pincer movement. Precisely what the correlation between DIY and charity is escapes me, it’s not as if they are collecting for “Save the Sheds” or something. And they’re canny these days: “would you like a sticker?” they say to my son, which is the same as asking a grown man if he’d like fellatio, of course he’d like a sticker – he lives for stickers!!! Stickers are heroin for toddlers and you know it, they can never have enough. And then they give you that look which says “I believe courtesy dictates that in exchange for the sticker I have cunningly sold your son, there is a small matter of a donation to be addressed before you can actually enter the shop”. Now, if you find yourself in this position and for whatever reason decide, under those circumstances,that you would rather not donate, do what I do and turn the tables: extreme politeness, over effusiveness has no known defence so fight fire with fire and say “Oh a sticker! Thank you sooooo much that reeeeaaallly is jolly jolly kind of you” and just walk past them.
And once inside, as an adult, it’s just not the same. Because you’ll have to ask someone that works there something. This is guaranteed, no-one has ever gone in, found what they are looking for and left. Oh no, not without giving an old man wearing dungarees the chance to humiliate you. That’s right, he’s wearing a badge and dungarees and he’s humiliating you? How has this happened? What’s going on? Why is he wearing dungarees as if it’s the most normal thing in the world? Why did they give me this massive skateboard rather than a proper trolley? Why are they selling swingball here? What the fuck is happening?
“I’m looking for MDF – can you point me in the right direction?”
“Ah yes the old medium density fibreboard” he sighs and for a moment he looks off into the distance, as if remembering a sixties love affair in Paris with a piece of MDF.
“That’s it, MDF – which aisle is it in?”
“What’s the job sir?”
“What do you need the MDF for sir? Are you sure it’s the most appropriate material, we have a wide range of timber products”
“I’m quite sure, shall I just ask someone else?”
“If you’d like to follow me Sir”
And so I do follow him. Or more precisely I have to match his infuriatingly slow pace as he plods along the longest shop in christendom – it takes a full 5 minutes. In that time I have come to the conclusion that he is mainly there for “company”, any salary is a pure bonus. I’ve had a brief history of MDF and I think he might be wearing a nappy. Other shoppers shuffle along by dungareed pensioners, we don’t look at each other. The dignity holocaust. The worst thing about this is that he takes me back to where I originally looked, or at least where I thought I looked? It’s like that Harry Potter train platform, I was actually in aisle 9 and three quarters.
“There you are Sir” he says smugly “Now can I help you with anything else?”
“I wonder if you can,” I say “ What’s the group noun for sheds?”
I leave him chewing that one over, load up my skateboard with MDF and join a queue of thousands at the one till that is open. The cashier cannot find a single bar code on anything. It becomes clear that the aisles are this wide so we can queue up them while others continue to shop.
On the way out I buy a chamois leather that I don’t need.
A vending machine hulks at the exit, it’s sad chrome spirals are all empty.