Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not in Stock at Tesco

There is, I am reliably informed, nothing new under the sun. And this does seem true since here I am leafing through the Army and Navy Stores catalogue for 1907. Lest you should think that I am a bit late for my Christmas shopping, I should mention that it is all part of some research into the Edwardian era, and this substantial publication, all one thousand, two hundred and eighty pages of it, provides a wonderful mirror of the life and times of the Edwardian.
Harrods, even before they became the property of an unsavoury Egyptian market trader, were mere amateurs at the retail business.
And for those of you who think that Tesco is the ultimate in one stop shopping, well I've got news for you.
Just try sauntering into your nearest branch and asking the spotty faced manager (with a degree in retailing from the East Burpingham Polytechnic) if they can provide you with an elephant's foot liqueur stand, a Mauser repeating self loading pistol and a 'Berkefeld Patent' Traveller's and Army Pump Filter, and I suspect, nay, I am certain, you will be treated like a lunatic. Ask if they will deliver to Tristan d'Acunha or Palaos Island and the gendarmes will be called to cart you away.
Yet, one hundred years ago, these were routine orders (promptly despatched, according to their catalogue) for the Army and Navy Stores.
Admittedly, you had to order in writing and not by way of the internet but at any rate your credit card was not in any danger of being mis-used.
But perhaps my favourites in the catalogue are contained in the 'Entertainments Department (second floor)' where one can retain the services of such performers as Professor Smith's Royal Punch and Judy with Dog Toby, as performed at Buckingham Palace, June 23rd., 1903, before Their Majesties The King and Queen and Royal Family.
Or you might prefer to engage 'Wallah and Jarhoo, the Royal Durbar Entertainers with their Indian Mango Mystery. Fakirs, Jugglers, Conjurers and Mystery Men in Native Costume (Note: These Entertainers are NOT natives but appear exactly as natives of India. The entertainment is very wonderful and clever.)'
On second thoughts, I don't think Wallah and Jarhoo will be a good idea, race relations being what they are in Britain today, and you'll be better off hiring 'Herr Moritz Francois Blue Hungarian Band who will show up in Handsome National Uniforms complete with the Famous Hungarian Czymbalo.'
You've probably got some European neighbours who will appreciate them.
But I bet you can't get them at Tesco!


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