Mac's is our local hardware store - a dimly lit Aladdin's cave where escutcheons nestle with spigots, ball peins are crammed in next to Forstner bits, Yankees, adzes, and spokeshaves, while Stilson No 3's gently rust, ignorant of new "Push and Fit" developments in plumbing that have made them virtually unemployable in the fixing of pipes. Nowadays most people buying a Stilson in Hull do so in the interests of self-defence. The shelves of Macs are crammed with screws, bolts, nuts, saws, paint, hooks, rope, and boxes are piled randomly everywhere else. With floor space at a premium, spades, picks, demolision bars and oil filled heaters hang overhead, dangling from pieces of garden twine attached to the small cup-hooks that Mac has hammered into the plaster. There is not a "How To...." leaflet on display anywhere.
If something cannot be found on Mac's shelves, or in the boxes, or overhead, Gary, Mac's son, is dispatched "into the back". Gary, unwillingly disppears through a door behind the counter, a door which only the cognescenti are aware of, mostly because the door itself is hung with, and disguised by, electrical parts, spark plugs and spares for gas lamps.
"Where are they, Dad?" comes Gary's voice, accompanied noises which suggest that boxes, much larger than the volume of space which you know has to be behind that door, are being moved.
"Next to the wotsits, you know, the tile trimmer spares box....Have you found them?"
Silence. Bash. Then "No, I cant see them"
Mac himself, sighs, and casts his eyes skyward and looks at me,
"Sorry about this....hang on"
Mac disappears, more bashing and moving. Then, strangely, footsteps overhead, echoing as if in a cathedral.
As the footsteps stop directly overhead, Mac and Gary suddenly appear behind the counter again.
"No, sorry, we don't have any two inch nails. Funny that, we used to."
On these rare occasions, I unwillingly ride to a place that I stubbornly call "Home Depot", equally stubbornly pronouncing the name of the place utilizing my version of the Canadian Brogue,
"See you later, Nel. I'm off to Oam Dee-POH".
Oam Dee-POH, or B&Q's, as it is called here, may as well be Oam Dee-POH - aisles labelled and neat, products branded and packaged. It is an utterly New Labour paradise, completely fulfilling all of Gordon Brown's desire for how society be. These stores are offensively safe, well lit and horribly global. You buy your conservatively styled non-UK products, all of which are apparently 'Eco', and fit them safely into your home, following the step-by-step instructions so that your kitchen looks exactly as it should on the cover of the Store's in-house magazine. Next season, when fashions change, you tear up your brand new floor and install Eco-friendly bamboo. The main function of these places is to keep the Global Market moving - they will sell you an Eco-friendly, high-efficiency tumble dryer AND a wind turbine to power it, while for £5.99 Mac will sell you a clothes line and two screws with which to fasten it.
It is therefore in an atmosphere of simmering resentment, and directed anger that the Crosstowner gets navigated to Oam Dee-POH, and my mood does not improve as I cross the threshold. The store, a Corporate sign informs me, cannot sell me anything until 10.00am on Sunday due to trading laws, but invites me to 'browse' and apologizes for any inconvenience I may suffer. It is 9.48am and the store is already full of inconvenienced people, all of whom are 'browsing'. I hate being apologized to by Corporate bodies, especially when the apology is meaningless, and therefore, by definition, completely insincere, and again comparisons with Mac's result, as he opens when he feels like it, and never apologizes if he wants to close the store so he can go and watch the Rugby.
Nevertheless, I attempt to browse, but not finding what I want, I approach a member of staff who is standing next to a pile of neatly stacked wood. As soon as he sees that I mean to engage him, he takes his intercom from his belt, and in a practised move is talking to the Warehouse before I can ask him anything. He holds up his hand, in a gesture which I interpret as "Wait a minute", so I do. When he has finished telling the Warehouse that he is busy "tidying up the wood", I ask him where I might find laminate edge tape.
"Sorry, mate, I've got to tidy this wood before the customers start in..."
I look puzzled - am I not a customer? Do I not bleed ? Have I no DIY needs?
He sees my puzzlement and explains, referring to the sign I saw earlier
"Cant help you until ten o'clock, mate. Didnt you see the sign? Cant serve customers till ten" and without further ado, he returns to stacking the stacked wood, but not before calling the Warehouse again and loudly telling them he's " 'ad another one what cant read".
I consult my phone. It is 9.57, so I utilize the washroom facilities (a rare feature in English stores), and return to the wood stacker. He's still on the phone, so I wait next to him. The hand gesture from before is repeated, this time a little impatiently, so I wait a little more. When he hangs up, I repeat my earlier request for laminate edge tape, 50mm.
"What do you want that for?" he asks me, looking sceptical.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the only response I can give to this is "Edging laminate", because now the guy thinks I'm being, in the local vernacular, "clever". I can see that he is determined not to help, and so it transpires, as he answers that he "hasnt a clue - I do the wood" and directs me to "possibly kitchens".
"Possibly kitchens" is staffed by Beryl, a "Kitchen design Associate" who shars with the wood stacker a complete lack of knowledge of anything the stores sells, and a complete lack of interest in any of it's customers.
"Have you thought about asking a joiner to do it? That sounds technical. We have kitchen fitters here."
I bother not to explain my background, as I am now almost apoplectic. Besides which, the Crosstowner has been left outside for fiftenn minutes by now, and experience has taught me that in Hull, this usually means that, at least, my water bottle will have been stolen, so I'm anxious to get back to the bike. I leave, cursing the trickle down economics that allows these places to exist, and are busy driving guys like Mac out of business.
The problem you see, and the thing that is really annoying me, is that Mac's represents the local, the small, and in my opinion, the future. It is also a future that maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama's presidency may be headed towards. A combination of Obama's stated plan to pump money into infrastructure in the USA, plus the probable protectionist concessions that he will be forced to accept, could feasibly re-juvenate smaller American businesses. Reading between Obama's lines, and some of his more overt statements, it seems as if his administration's approach to tackling the Global Financial crisis represents an end to trickle down economics and a return to Keynesian economics. The implications of an active Keynesian economic policy are inevitable protectionist, because national Governments actively intervene in their own economies, and in some ways, the effects of Keynsian policies echo the slogan of some environmentalists "Think Global, Act Locally".
OaM dee-POH on the other hand, represents Gordon's World, a World where the Global financial markets, if operating correctly, control national economies. It is for this reason that our Prime Minister has been so keen to have his "grand Bargain" plan accepted globally, and also why all his attention at home has been focused on the banks and the City. Gordon's Grand Bargain would allow Oam Dee-POH to continue in profitability because their profits are fixed more by their Global buying power, and consequently 'the markets' (ie Wall Street etc),the Banks and the City than by whether I can buy laminate edge tape or not. Mac, on the other hand, more directly perhaps, needs me, as a local individual, to have £5.99 so I can buy a washing line. The British economy depends on Oam Dee-POH, while Mac's, and his stock of spokeshaves, grommits and escutcheons, depends on the British economy. It is a fine line, perhaps a washing line, but I would rather hang my clothes out with Mac than buy a corporate clothes dryer, every time.