I swear to you that this is a true story, albeit embellished for entertainment value. It happened in my presence and it illustrates that even after three decades of dealing with customers, there is always one to surprise you. Here goes.
One day, in the phase of my career when I was a hypermarket general manager in the Midlands, I took a call from a Mrs. Parker (name changed to protect the insane).
“I’m really upset,” she began, positioning herself on the front foot and me on the defensive back foot.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Please tell me about it and I’ll do everything I can to put things right.”
“I don’t know where to begin”, she replied with a slight choke in her voice and, I envisioned, a tremble on the lower lip.
“Why not start at the beginning? It’s a very good place to start”, I suggested without the slightest hint of sarcasm, even though Julie Andrews was singing the do-re-mi song in the back of my head.
“Well, I do all the catering at home for my husband’s business clients. We have dinners and he discusses things with them while I play host, do all the cooking and ensure everyone has a great time, and, of course, hopefully help my husband to agree some deals.”
“I see,” I said, silently slurping up the milk skin from the top of my coffee.
“Last week,” she continued, “I spent a lot of time working out the menu and I decided to start the meal with avocado pears, prawns and a light vinaigrette dressing. So, as usual for my supplies I came to your store to do my shopping. I picked up two avocado pears, did the rest of my shopping and went home. The next day, the day of the business dinner, I prepared the avocadoes and on cutting the two of them open I noticed they were not pure green. They were mottled brown. I was horrified, with two hours to go until my husband arrived with his clients. What was I to do? The whole evening was about to be ruined. My husband always insisted on three courses, starter, main and dessert and then on to coffee, brandy and cigars. But I had no starter. It was catastrophic. I could feel my blood pressure rising. I could feel my nerves begin to jangle. I was in pieces.”
“I’m so sorry to hear this,” I breezed in, thinking quietly that Mrs. Parker could have opened a tin of soup. “So how did the evening go”, I ventured, realising that as soon as I asked, I risked the wrath of an answer similar to that experienced by a dark humourist who enquired of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln: “Apart from that, First Lady, did you enjoy the play?”
“How did you think it went?” blasted sparky Mrs. Parker, “it was a bloody disaster. My confidence in the kitchen and as a dinner party host is shattered. What are you going to do about it?”
“Well,” I began, not really knowing how to proceed and looking around the office for any object that would inspire me to resolve this tricky complaint. I saw the stapler but, instead of screaming out a message of hope and reconciliation, all it did was encourage a thought my mental airspace to consider ramming my hand down the telephone to clamp Mrs. Parker’s lips together. It seemed a great idea, but like most great ideas, impossible without much more time, money, research and determination.
“Well, first of all I am very sorry to hear about your troubled evening. It is certainly never our intention here to upset customers. I know from what you told me that the avocado pears looked perfectly fine from the outside, although I appreciate your disappointment when you opened them up. Perhaps you can help me. What would you like me to do for you?”
I would like to take a moment to give you a short history lesson, in the interests of context, about the avocado and attempt to illustrate how this inanimate object can ruin a supermarket manager’s day. For the record, the avocado pear, also known as the alligator pear, was introduced to the USA in the 19thcentury in Fallbrook, California. It is a town of approximately 29,000 citizens and calls itself the avocado capital of the world. It hosts an annual avocado festival every spring when the good folks of the planet Avocado presumably descend for a feast fit for a Martian. The pears come from trees that grow to about 65 feet and each tree yields 120 pears per year. Each pear can be anything from 7cm to 20cm long and weigh between 100g and 1000g. The pears are relatively cheap to produce and to buy, which is why I shudder at the thought of how I resolved Mrs. Parker’s complaint.
“I have calculated that each dinner party costs £75 and I will be happy if you compensate me that amount for the disaster.” Mrs. Parker sounded aggressive and committed to her tactics. I wondered, fleetingly, if she ever considered running a political party or a training school for nightclub bouncers.
“Oh,” I reacted, sounding faintly like an Alan Carr impersonator, “that’s a lot of money for a couple of pears.”
“It’s not about a couple of pears,” she erupted, with backing vocals and harmonies from her band mates Etna and Vesuvius, “ it’s about my confidence, my blood pressure, my husband’s business, my marriage, my, my, my trust in humanity.”