I admit it, I’m a sucker for punishment and misery and this time of the year does nothing to help me. Strangers smile at you in the street, hold doors open for you and sometimes even clean up after their dog. So I’ve been particularly ill at ease over the festive season, after sitting for a while I remembered that there is still one place in Dronfield that has managed to avoid development, updates, refurbishments or even regular cleaning: The Co-operative at the Civic Centre. Now Dronfield has seen some exciting developments over the past few years in the supermarket sector. Sainsburys provides an excellent if slightly stuffy shopping experience and Aldi is filled to the brim with affordable and tasty products, managed over by a team of fresh-faced, happy and helpful staff. But after over a month of festive joy who wants value for money, good quality food or even barely conscious staff?
Now this wasn’t purely an exercise in self-punishment; I actually needed some supplies; milk, beer, bread and cheese. I have to also admit I’m one of the people (also called the majority) in Dronfield who upon hearing that Sainsburys were opening, confidently decreed that the Co-op would be gone within six months. Apparently we were wrong and even the arrival of Aldi has not meant that the civic centre flushed the toilet. Blocking from my mind the countless stories from friends and family of being treated worse than a drunk Blades fan with the trots I wandered in.
Now despite blocking out the above stories I remembered one of the rules for surviving in here: don’t go for the offers. The staff can barely cope with keeping their spinny chairs facing you never mind entering discounts or offers into the till. So heading straight for the items on my list I was only slightly depressed to find that everything was only modestly overpriced compared to all the local competitors. I had heard that everything was at least twice as expensive. Still I had yet to deal with the staff. Apparently all made up of ex-dinner ladies who eventually were given their walking orders after slapping one too many special needs student. Imagine my dismay at finding that in fact there was no staff at any till, thinking back I had only seen one member of staff, a Nora Batty lookalike with no neck who shouldered me into a shelf of Walker’s ready salted. Maybe the management has decided on a pre-emptive strike strategy and decided to just not try to compete with Sainsburys or Aldi? It was at the time that I found out just how the Co-op was staying open. I was the only person in there who was under seventy and/or not being accompanied by a carer. Some could call the targeting of those with mild dementia or mental illness cold or even cruel but to be fair if your prices are solidly higher than everyone else’s, your staff struggle with basic tasks and compensate for this with grunting out commands at you from between clenched teeth then you are pretty limited when targeting a customer base.
Eventually a member of staff turned up and after staring slack-jawed at me and the two old dears waiting at the empty till for a few minutes decided to shuffle past us and open up the tobacco counter. At least we were getting served. Well not exactly, the woman decided that she would ring someone on her mobile phone. It was at this point that a happy warm feeling starting to spread out all over my body. This was the famous service I had been waiting for! Lesser people would have put their basket on the floor and walked out (if dementia and poor hips allowed for rapid decision making and joint movement) but this was what had kept me going during those family dinners. Pure unadulterated ignorance and blatant lack of competence. It’s what get’s me up in the morning.
Eventually, after discussing from what I could guess was the latest Jeremy Kyle gossip, we started to be served. The milk, bread and cheese got past fine, I suppose the stubby-fingered hands grabbing the middle of the bread and squeezing the life out of it would give some interesting sandwiches later in the week. The fingernail marks in the cheese just give character to the food. Those things keep my life interesting. But the beer brought the best experience. Now being over thirty I assumed the days of being asked for ID were long behind me but my leathery old mug was no match for the beady little eyes hiding behind the NHS specs that were looking me up and down. In the end I wasn’t asked for ID anyway, after hocking up some phlegm and loudly swallowing it she barked out “ID!”
I looked blankly at her and I was faced back with unblinking cold eyes. Apparently I looked reasonably blank as again “ID!” was spat out in my direction. Dawning on me that she was demanding my driver’s licence I started going through my credit cards to prove to her that indeed I was over 18, despite my almost identical ZZ Top beard. Eventually finding my licence I almost let out a giggle as it was snatched off me, yellowed and crooked fingernails scraping across my knuckles. I passed my inspection with flying colours and my ID was thrown down the side of the till for me to pick up. God I love this place! Packing my own items up into a bag and putting my licence away I held up my hand and waited for my change with a smile. Apparently Co-op has a policy of rounding up as instead of a nice even eight pounds being charged, I found myself being stared at by the woman demanding an extra four pence complete with a face that clearly said that I was a thief and/or a piece of filth. Now I’m no Einstein but I was able to add up four items to eight pounds in the time I was waiting to be insulted, sorry served. Looking back I should has questioned her maths skills but remembering that a friend of mine had been banned from this store for such shocking behaviour I decided to give the extra four pence over. Maybe I was expecting too much by waiting for a thank you or goodbye but no, as soon as the extra money was handed over the woman let out a loud snort, half-fell off her chair and limped off. Now this is what I had been missing!
Watching the confused looking pensioners around me wrapping up in coats and scarves to brave the weather outside I needed no such protection, for I am a customer of Civic Centre Co-op. I have the heart of being treated like a rapist covered in rancid butter!
So on a cold and wet winter night in Dronfield, if you are bored maybe don’t go to Sainsburys and get the usual good quality food. Don’t go to Aldi and be greeted by the helpful and lively staff. Give yourself a treat and pop into Co-op, a magical place where somehow local management have been able to concentrate all of their most rude, under-trained and hostile staff into one store. Think of it as a Penal store, instead of hard labour if you have been caught with your fingers in the hot chickens you get sent to Dronfield civic. It makes a change and you may enjoy yourself!
Submitted by Barry The Barstool.