“Arkwright's” In France
Tucked away down a side alley in a sleepy rural town nearby is a small hardware emporium of the old-fashioned kind. Stock is displayed apparently randomly from floor to ceiling, with garden implements, tools, pots and pans and all manner of domestic paraphernalia jostling for space on the ancient wooden shelves. If you are British and of a certain age, you may know exactly what sort of retail store I mean.
The shop has a French name of course, but the Brits who live nearby affectionately call it “Arkwright’s”. I made my way there recently to buy a mousetrap.
The front door is half glazed and opens inwards to the melodic clang of a small bell fixed to the door frame. Presumably its purpose is to summon an attendant from the depths of the stockroom, but one can never be sure, since the normal response time is anywhere between two and five minutes when the place is empty. That isn’t often the case, but it would be quite long enough to allow a dishonest person to make off with items of displayed stock without paying. However such an event would be unthinkable in this part of France. The natives are naively, wonderfully, honest.
There are of course no security cameras, nor any labour-saving device of any kind that could be dated after the nineteen-fifties. The cash tray is a wooden drawer placed below the counter. My particular favourite is the price list; a distressed ring binder fixed to a slope on top of the counter. I’m guessing that there must be over a hundred separate pages, each within its own plastic sleeve.
Every single item has its price. And every item purchased is price-checked by Madame herself or by her husband, every time. It can be a time-consuming process, especially if one is in a queue of customers, patiently waiting to be served. In this shop, queuing is the norm whilst Monsieur or Madame discusses all manner of issues with the customer in front. The interaction between owner and customer is more highly valued it seems, than time.
But hey, relax. This is France. Where else would I have been gifted the time and attention to debate the efficacy of the types of bait that could be used to load the mouse trap? And where else could I have learned that mouse traps should be baited with chocolate, not cheese?