Every Tuesday, on my way home from work, I stop off at the newspaper kiosk outside my nearest tube station. I only ever stop by on Tuesdays, because that's the only day there's something I want to buy. But I always make a point of stopping here, and nowhere else, because I believe in supporting a proper retail independent. And because I always leave with two magazines and a smile.
I used to stop off at the local supermarket. They may have sold only a limited range of magazines, but they sold the two I wanted. Trouble was there was always a long queue, even if I didn't really want to buy much, and I'd always get stuck behind some moron buying a bottle of water with a credit card. And then I discovered that the newspaper kiosk outside the station always had one of my magazines a day earlier than the supermarket, because it had the benefit of mid-afternoon distribution. So I switched my allegiance from the supermarket, and I haven't looked back since.
Initially I had to announce which two magazines I required. But it was always the same cheery bloke behind the counter, the one with a bushy tache and the relaxed grin, and he soon got to know which two magazines I wanted without me asking. This one, this one. I was very impressed by his memory because I'm only a once-a-week visitor, but that's damned good customer service for you.
And now every encounter's much the same. I walk up to the kiosk late on Tuesday afternoon and smile, and I don't have to say a word. Friendly bloke smiles back, leans over on his seat and reaches behind him for a Radio Times. Then he moves his hand a few covers along the shelf for a Time Out and grasps it slowly, no rush. And finally he places the two magazines together, beams, and holds them out to me.
Initially he had to tell me how much my two magazines cost. But I'm a fast learner too, and I started to help him as much as he was helping me. Soon I was arriving at the kiosk every Tuesday with the right money, just to speed things up, and because I'm nice like that. I brought £3.45 for a long time, I remember. Then we had brief spells at £3.48 and £3.50 when the Radio Times cover price started playing silly buggers, and a big leap to £3.80 when Time Out suddenly hiked its cost by 12%.
A new price rise was always a good excuse for a conversation. I don't know, what are they playing at, yes another rise, £4.04 now is it, let me find some more change, ridiculous eh? Or we'd discuss the weather, or the local road works, or something else of irrelevant relevance. It was just enough to make a connection, to build a bond, and to make sure I always came back the following week. Which I always did.
We'll not be meeting again, because time moves on and circumstances dictate. Yesterday evening I turned up at the kiosk with my £4.09, preparing to say a last farewell. I had what I was going to say sketched out, nothing fancy, but a definite vote of thanks for several years of service. Only he wasn't there! Another bloke was in his seat, and this occasional sidekick didn't remember me at all. I had to ask for my two magazines by name, and me having the exact change just looked sad rather than endearing.
So now I'll never get the chance to say goodbye. I'll just vanish from the kiosk's repertoire of customers, and there'll be two more magazines unsold each week. I wonder if smiley bloke will remember me next Tuesday when our routine is broken. I suspect he will, because he's always remembered everything so far. I'd really liked to have paid my dues. I hope he doesn't think I'm ungrateful.
So next week I'm going to have to look elsewhere for my weekly magazine fix. I hope I don't end up having to take a long detour on the way home or, even worse, standing back in that sluggish supermarket queue. I'd really like to give my £4.09 to someone who genuinely deserves it, not a faceless national outlet with only a handful of popular titles by the checkout. I hope I still get the choice.
It seems that Londoners don't want to buy magazines and papers from kiosks in the street any more, not when they can read free tabloid fluff poked into their hands by jabbering pavement-blockers. If this trend continues then we may end up unable to read what we want, only what we're given. They're a dying breed, diamond geezer newsagents. Sorry mate, and thanks.