Masks have opened up a new world to me. Due to the amount of television work I used to do, my face remains pretty widely recognised. In terms of my retail experience this skews matters somewhat. If I’m being served nicely, I suspect it is because the sales assistant has clocked me, even if they didn’t say so. Conversely, if I’m treated less well, I assume it is because they have either not seen me on television, or have seen me and not much enjoyed the experience.
Shopping, masked and anonymous, has therefore been quite a revelation. Obviously, with most shops closed, my research has been limited to supermarkets, pet shops, DIY stores and petrol stations. Incognito, I’ve been met with marked indifference, which is just fine. Not infrequently, this indifference seems to dip into disdain, but that might just be my imagination.
In a major DIY chain this week I had a most upsetting experience. Having limited handyman skills, in these places I invariably need to fall upon the mercy and expertise of a member of staff. Usually they are helpful. On this occasion however, with me masked up, it was different. I was looking for some means of re-connecting table lamp cables, my dog having chewed through them all. A man was summoned to meet me in the correct aisle. He began by looking me up and down with what I can only describe as undisguised loathing. I tried to charm him with my teething dog hard luck story, but his hatred only seemed to deepen. He pointed at some electrical widget and said: “This won’t work.” And that was his last word on the matter. He walked away, and I walked out of the place, more in sorrow than anger.
In pet shops, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Pet-shoppers are obviously deemed to be responsive to good service. I’ve made several new friends at my local Pets at Home. And this was before my anonymity was blown when someone at the company heard I had acquired a dog, and I was sent a box of stuff. I was going to send it back, but the dog had got hold of the little bed they had sent and had his first sexual experience with it, at the conclusion of which he tore it to pieces. That’s how much he values good customer service.
Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and Guardian columnist