Sunday, 26 September 2010

My M&S malaise

You could learn a lot about just how hatefully privileged and comfortable my life is from the fact that one of the things I worry about is the future of Marks & Spencer.

The last few years have been tough. Through the endless reports of their imminent financial ruin, we have had to shop hard and stay strong and listen to Bon Jovi a lot in order to Keep The Faith. And as if that wasn't upsetting enough, there is the question of what kind of personality crisis is being played out in store.

Clearly, Someone Up High has decided that M&S must no longer be the preserve of slippers and, like, preserves. Yet, they can't seem to decide whether they want Enid Blyton as their CEO:

Or Barbara Windsor circa 1969.

I don't want my raspberries to be ripping or my nectarines to be naughty. I just want them to be clean and ripe and cut into nice little pieces that I can eat with a plastic fork without taking my eyes off the computer screen or the telly. That is why I shop there. Also, for the excellent tights.

And then there's the horribly misjudged conception of the 'Reverse Percy'. Is it just me who thinks they have taken the much loved Percy Pig confectionary item - beloved of office workers and pork gelatine enthusiasts everywhere - and given it a makeover with overtones of dark sexual experimentation. I don't care at all for the way they've chirpily written 'It's just wrong!' on the packet, above a cartoon of Percy shielding his eyes.

Also, they are 'super-sticky'. Ew.

This air of 'We're not just here for drawliners and long nighties. Honestly, we are a right laugh. Some of those guys in product development are
really crazy' is a bit embarrassing for everyone.

So let us say that I was experiencing some feelings of anxiety about the well-being of Magic & Sparkle. And then this happened:

The invasion of the other brands. Urgh! Common old Nescafe. Garish Kelloggs. Strongbow. Strongbow!

Clearly, I am at risk of sounding like some demonic pure-brand fascist – 'Any item of merchandise here not born of St Michael can CLEAR OUT! And yes, Walkers Crisps, I am TALKING TO YOU' – but it's more that they taint my impression of M&S food hall as some kind of supermarket shangri-la where everything exudes the same soothing brandlessness, miles away from the everyday labels of your daily grind. It's like they have let the outside in, where previously it was some magic kingdom of modestly achievable luxury. (Toilet paper with fleur de lys on! Get me!)

All this horror is to say nothing of the plastic, stemmed glasses full of wine with a foil peel-off top, so you can feel like some kind of urbane wine-bar sophisticate as you cruise back out to zone 5 on your packed commuter train, serenaded by one-sided phone conversations and mobile-phone R&B, while the aroma of Burger King Whoppas and despair dances in your nostrils.

I have never taken a photo of these since it would be a step further towards acknowledging their existence that I am simply not prepared to take.

All this makes me wonder if I am witnessing the last desperate commerical throes of the M&S empire. It compounds my suspicion that they are in terminal decline. And then where will I buy my 'more chocolate than biscuit' biscuits and luxury sherry trifles for one? Oh woe, oh vile middle-class, clasping-the-affordable-cashmere-to-my-bosom woe.

And yet. If this represents some kind of midlife crisis for M&S – desperately trying to appear fun and 'groovy', cavorting with unsuitable brands, committing label infidelity – it may be OK. If they've been trading since the 1880s, and they're at the middle of their life, that means they shouldn't close until at least 2130, right? Which means I won't have to worry about that eventuality in my lifetime. Just like climate change. I'M TOTALLY JOKING.

So now I just have to work on our relationship. But I've remembered that as Halloween starts to creep up on us, I always fall in love with M&S all over again. Last week I saw these and I knew that everything was going to be alright.

Yep. Still got it.


Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Miss Jones, I loved this post. I have shopped in M&S at Angel, Islington for absolutely years so am totally familiar with all their products. Love the observation about the jelly, I probably wouldn't have noticed... but very funny and so right. And those pigs? I thought they were called Percy pigs? Not that I buy them anyway.

A year ago a Waitrose opened right next door to the M&S and I have been going there rather regularly. I bet Waitrose don't do Witches Fingers though! I could be tempted to return xx

Cathy said...

:nods in agreement:

It all went wrong when they abandoned the jolly green bags. You'd walk down the street and see a fellow M&S-er half a mile off. Now, the bags are generic and boring black. Just like the company.

My local store has morphed from comfy and cosy with chair by the door for OAP's, light and slightly dowdy but glorious into severe, black metal, dark and gloomy and cold and NO seat for OAP crapness. It's like Dominatrix & Spencer. Even the uniforms are now rigid black high necked zipped things that look like they could be wipe clean.

I want the green back. I want to see a bit of masking tape on the carpet, I want nice, clean St. Michael products that aren't trying to be 'oh so trendy'.

Yes, I too suffer from the middle class angst of M&S doom-itis. I am not ashamed. I am NOT ASHAMED!!!

Alison Cross said...

As soon as they started bringing in branded jammies for kids, I thought This Is The End....but they're still trundling onwards.

And I've just bought quite a nice outfit from them too - via website. Nothing nice comes to the Greenock M&S - is entirely stocked for elderly people who wear elasticated waistbands.

Ali x

legend in his own lunchtime said...

Ah, but do they still make the best Salt and Vinegar crisps. It's almost worth a flight home. (Maybe for more than one packet just to balance the cost of the ticket).

Anonymous said...

Totally agree Miss Jones, about non-M&S products polluting the food shelves - it's just not right.

In particular, I'm mourning the loss of their fake Twix bars - the uncomfortably named 'Chocolate, Biscuit and Caramel Bars'.

No doubt made of more cheaply sourced ingredients than genuine Twixes, they were for some reason, infinitely superior to my palette. (In much the same way that cheap supermarket Easter Eggs taste much, much better to me than anything your fancy Swiss Chocolatiers may conjure up.)

I cannot help but view the appearance of non-M&S branded goods in the Food Halls of this land as some kind of tragedy, though it's difficult to entirely specify as to why.

On a side not however, I remember my Mum finding an actual pebble in a bag of salted peanuts that she bought from M&S, Eldon Square, Newcastle in the mid-80s. When she sent the offending item into M&S to complain (She could've choked! Broke her tooth! Etc!), in addition to the letter of apology from St Michael (as the foods were branded back then), and a complimentary gift voucher, a further (more profusive) letter of apology arrived from KP foods. So it was clearly all a front even back then.

Mr T x

Rosalind said...

God, I miss Marks and Sparks.

One of the reasons I'm looking forward to coming back to the UK is so I can shop there again. When we were in the UK visiting last year, I spent about 300 quid in there. "Just doing my bit for the recession!" I told my husband.

Another excellent blog, Miss Jones. Thank you for brightening my day!


InvisibleWoman said...

"plastic, stemmed glasses full of wine with a foil peel-off top".Tell me you are kidding...