This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
Samuel is intimidated by fashionably dressed ‘shop-girls’ who present themselves with a self-assurance that undermines his masculine confidence. In his confusion, he commits what in the next century was called a ‘spoonerism’: ‘soollen wocks”. Things are no better for him when he shops elsewhere and is humiliated by the confident sales patter of the men serving. He is generally incapacitated when assigned a role which he believes belongs to the ‘woman’s sphere’ –– shopping, housekeeping or child-minding. David Skilton
HERE are two main things about shopping, sir, that always occur to me. One is my aversion to buying anything at a shop where a girl has to serve me, and the other is, that I never yet went into a chemist's shop to purchase any patented article, say, but that the doubtless worthy man in the shop recommended to me something of his own compounding infinitely better (by his own account) than what I had inquired for. I have no doubt, sir, I have no doubt whatever, that the young ladies who wait in shops are most admirable girls – they certainly are oftentimes most attractive ones – but I wholly object to them as salesmen – I should say, saleswomen. Supposing that I go into a shop for any given article, a pair of socks, say. A young lady with a plentiful supply of improver bustles up, and says in a most seductive way, ‘What can I do for you, sir?’ She says this in a sort of I-would-do anything-in-the-world-for you manner, and you feel impelled for the moment to ask her to greet you affectionately on the spot. However, you stifle this feeling, and murmur, ‘I want to see some socks." Through her looking at you so fixedly you get confused, and doubtless make rather a mull of the last three words, rendering the whole sentence, ‘I want to see some socks,’ a wholly idiotic request on the face of it. Very politely and deferentially indeed does she act under the circumstances. ‘I beg your pardon,’ she says, and then you blurt out, ‘Have you any socks?’ as though you imagined that she wore such articles in preference to stockings. ‘Socks, sir, oh, yes; woollen or worsted?’ This is always a poser for me personally, sir, for I have no more idea of the difference between such materials than I have between two peas in the same pod. However, feeling that you must decide quickly, you reply confusedly, ‘I'll see some soollen wocks – I mean woollen socks.’ She skips away with a sort of up my sleeve laugh, and presently flops down before you a box, the lid of which she removes with a sort of lightning gesture. ‘Excellent –– article –– sir– – will –– wear –– well –– best –– thing –– made –– three-six the pair.’ You examine the article, and then, the lady's gimlet eye not being upon you (she is apparently making telegraphic and pantomimic signs to a giddy young thing opposite), venture to say that they (the socks) appear to be rather too thin.
Now it is here, sir, that the evil of the female vendor, so far as I am concerned, comes in. In a tone of infinite reproach and subdued pity, she says, ‘Oh, do you really think so?’, and she looks incredulously at you, as though she really wondered how on earth such an intelligent looking man (that's myself, sir) could ever perpetrate such a mistake. ‘Well, we have thicker ones,’ she says at last, seeing that one is absently and somewhat ruefully examining the first sample, and rather slowly and resignedly she fetches another box, and the same sort of thing goes on. Whilst you are looking over the second lot she looks at you with the air of one who would say, ‘Now, I feel that this man doesn't, know his own mind: I must sit on him.’ What tortures I have suffered in this way, sir, it is impossible for me to describe. In nine cases out of ten I am weak minded enough to buy some article that is totally unsuited to the purposes for which it is required, and I do this simply to escape from the presence of the all-potent young person.
Then take the chemist. You walk into his highly scented shop and ask, say, for a box of ‘RubtheEnameloff Tooth Paste.’ ‘l am afraid we are out of that just now, sir,’ the man of drugs say, blandly, ‘but I can confidently recommend an article of our own, which we call the “Lockjaw Dentifrice” for the teeth and gums. It is an article with the delicate aroma of the vi ‘ – and he begins to quote from the verbiage which is doubtless to be found printed on the wrapper. If you do not buy the man's ‘preparation’ (everything that a chemist compounds is a ‘preparation’ – a preparation for the grave in most cases, I should think), he seems to look upon the act of omission almost in the light of a personal affront, and I'll guarantee that in almost five cases out of six you buy the abomination rather than leave the shop beneath his indignant gaze.
My attempts at ‘buying in’ articles in the shape of comestibles have always ended disastrously. I generally form an absurd and wholly erroneous notion of the relative quantities required of given articles. Thus, I have bought as much as half a pound of pepper, half a pound of mustard and ‘four nice chops’ – and I invariably get wrong somehow. [sic] When I buy even a bit of fish and take it home for tea, my wife sniffs at it suspiciously, and, when I feel aggrieved at this and ask somewhat irritatingIy ‘what are you sniffing at?’ I receive for a reply the expression of the lady's belief that the fish I have bought is a remnant left over from the flood, and our fifty-second servant ‘gal’ laughs in an irritating way. It is the same with my meat buying. I verily believe that there has been a conspiracy of butchers formed to palm off upon me more fat, more gristle, and more bone than upon any other being in the town. If I buy a rump steak even I am sure to receive a big bit of bone with it. Bless your life, I believe that the butchers know my ‘igerance,’ as it is commonly called, by instinct. If I buy bacon, it is sure to be ‘reesty’ or ‘rosty,’ or whatever they call it, and the fat tastes like castor-oil. My wife says that I ought to be firm with tradesmen, that I am wanting in pluck – wanting in pluck indeed, when I went and married her. If I buy anything at a stall in the market, I generally manage to pick out the stall whereon all the good articles are displayed temptingly at the top – and I get the bottom ones. I believe that I have got unnerved in my shopping by the sneering of Mrs Samuel. Whenever I take anything home in a parcel I see a covert sort of leer on her face, and it disgusts me the more because, you see, I buy these trifling things as tributes and peace offerings to the good lady when she is in a disagreeable mood. On this head, sir, I have a serious complaint to make – a complaint anent your own staff. Some members of your staff, sir, are very forward and impertinent young men, though they do seem so modest (in print, or when you are in the room) that butter wouldn't, apparently, melt in their mouths. But they played a shabby, mean trick on me the other day, and I lodge this solemn complaint accordingly. I was having an interview with your cashier, sir (a long and stormy interview – but no matter!), and I had left a beautiful cod fish on a desk in the room usually occupied by these young men. This cod fish tasted peculiar – very, when it was cooked, and the colour was bad. Of course my good lady said ‘Another of your precious purchases, Samuel,’ and I was indignant. But I bribed one of the younger members of your staff, and I ascertained that those young men of yours bad been filling my codfish with your copying ink.
Had I known that sooner, I would have taken ever so many copies of that fish, most appropriately a ‘cod’ fish. l will say nothing about the waste of ink, sir – for certain of those young men are accustomed to wasting it (score one on the shove to me, good sir), but I hope that you will, without being offishus, take notice of mv complaint, and carp at those crabby soles in your office, for they must always give plaice to your wishes. I believe that I am easily persuaded by tradesmen. I bought a ready-made suit, on an emergency, not very long since, and the tradesman assured me that it fitted me ‘like the paper on the wall.’ I got into a shower with it, and it suddenly shrunk to boys’ size. My youngest son now wears it, and complains that it is still shrinking. I expect that ultimately it will shrink away altogether, and leave nothing but the buttons behind. I have made up my mind that I will make no more purchases. I will let someone else buy my things for me, and pay for them.
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Last modified 30 January 2022